What Is Alternative Medicine?
One of the more popular buzzwords in health in recent years has been “alternative medicine.” This sometimes controversial topic includes a number of popular trends in health. You may be wondering what alternative medicine encompasses, especially if people have recommended to you that you try using alternative healthcare techniques and treatments. What exactly does alternative medicine mean, and what relevance does it have to you?
Alternative medicine includes medicinal treatments that fit outside the traditional medicines and treatments prescribed by doctors. This can include everything from traditional Chinese healthcare remedies, to homeopathy, to dietary supplements, and many other types of healthcare. These types of treatment, it is claimed, despite being ignored by most doctors and scholars, can treat illnesses and injuries with, sometimes, more effectiveness than traditional medicine. Another claim of alternative medicine’s proponents is that the negative side effects of many allopathic medicines and treatments can be avoided with some of the alternative options.
A Few Types of “Alternative Medicine”
Some types of alternative medicine are based in entirely different healthcare systems and schools of thought. One of these is traditional Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based in ancient Chinese folklore, spirituality, and health treatments. Traditional Chinese Medicine holds the idea that there is an energy called “chi” or “qi” that flows through “meridians” in the body. By manipulating this “chi,” traditional Chinese medicine’s proponents claim that the imbalances that lead to a greater chance of illness can be balanced and health improved. Some of the types of healthcare in traditional Chinese medicine include acupuncture, acupressure, use of traditional herbs, and practice of Qigong (a field of techniques that include breathing exercises and relaxation techniques designed to control the “qi”) and meditation.
Another type of alternative medicine is homeopathic medicine. This was developed about 200 years ago in Germany. The ideas behind homeopathy assert that “like cures like,” that a disease can be cured with use of something that produces similar symptoms. Homeopathic theory states that the lower the dose, the greater the effectiveness. This means that homeopathic remedies are often very diluted, to the point that not much of the original substance remains. However, scholarly research is lacking of evidence supporting the effectiveness of any homeopathic remedies.
A field that has been growing in recent years is that of mind-body interventions. The treatments involved in mind-body interventions include therapies based in spirituality, expression, or other mental outlets. These techniques can include prayer, therapeutic dance, art, music, use of support groups, use of techniques such as qigong, yoga, or other similar exercises. Some of these techniques have seen greater mainstream acceptance, and the therapies used in mind-body interventions are one of the largest growing segments of alternative medicine.
Perhaps the largest segment of alternative medicine today is the use of biological substances for therapy or nutrition. These can include dietary supplements, use of herbal remedies, or use of remedies based in older traditions that have not seen larger acceptance within the scientific community. Dietary supplements are used by a large number of people for a variety of reasons, from professional athletes to the average person to accompany workouts, as well as simply to improve nutritional health when used daily. There is a huge variety in the available systems of dietary supplements, as well as the substances used. One example is the use of Omega-3 fatty acids to help metabolism. (I discuss the use of fish oil here.)
Controversy in Alternative Medicine
These techniques are often controversial. The reason for this is that most of these techniques are not used or encouraged by the scientific community at large, or by many allopathic doctors. This is also one of the primary reasons that many of alternative medicine’s proponents encourage the use of alternative medicine in opposition to traditional medicine, but it provides a reason to be cautious about use of alternative medicine. Most of the treatments found in alternative medicine have not experienced the same level of scrutiny and research that FDA-approved medicines have. However, one must also consider the funding model for medical studies and the influence that might be exerted by sponsors of funding.
Conclusion: Alternative Medicine and You
As you can see, there is a large variety of alternative medicine available today. The field has been growing quite a bit in the last few years, and there is quite a bit available to you. Whether alternative medicine is right for you or not is something that needs to be an individual decision for every person, and you should make use of the large amount of research material available on the internet. You should definitely consider some of the remedies and techniques and treatments that are available, but you should consult with your doctor for any medicine you choose to use, especially if there are possible interactions with other medications. Personally, I believe that with careful selection there is much of value for the plus-50 generation, and in this blog I will be covering many forms of alternative medicine in greater depth.
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