People have been using alternative medicine for thousands of years to understand diseases and provide natural ways of healing. Known as a holistic way of treating illness, these medical systems have been passed on from generation to generation, helping individuals understand the nature of ailments and providing a guiding philosophy for diagnosis and amenable treatment options. 

Alternative medicine is gaining popularity once again due to increased patient demand for more intensive and personal treatments that go beyond prescription drugs and surgery. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine (NCCIH), an estimated 12% of children and more than 30% of adults use alternative health care methods for their illnesses.  

Doctors also recognize the impact of alternative medicine, and some even incorporate it into their practice. These healthcare practices are now employed alongside conventional medicine, giving rise to Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). 

If you’re curious to know more, here’s a primer on understanding alternative medicine, its forms, and perceived benefits.

Alternative Versus Conventional Medicine 

Alternative medicine, also known as CAM, is defined as methods and forms of therapies that aren’t part of conventional medical practice. While conventional or allopathic medicine utilizes prescription drugs, therapies, and surgery, CAM uses various methods, such as diet supplements, herbs, as well as mind and body approaches, among others, to treat physical and mental illnesses. 

Alternative medicine is also considered as a holistic medical system, which provides a philosophy regarding the nature, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. CAM recognizes that an illness is caused by various factors and advocates a natural way of healing. It highlights the role of diet and nutrition and promotes positive lifestyle changes to achieve overall well-being.

Categories of Alternative Medicine  

  • Whole Systems 

Alternative medicine has a defined outlook on health and wellness. This philosophy demonstrates that illness is caused by several factors and that harmony and health can be restored through following prescribed guidelines. Traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, naturopathy, and homeopathy are considered as whole medical systems. 

Traditional Chinese medicine views illness as an imbalance of the life force (qi) that can be restored by the balance of yin and yang forces to the body. It uses herbs and concoctions made from plant and animal materials to treat various diseases. 

Ayurveda, India’s traditional medical system, also views disease as an imbalance of the body’s life force known as prana. An imbalance on the three bodily qualities (doshas) known as vata, pitta, and kapha are cured through diet, medicinal herbs, meditation, and internal cleansing. Cleansing is done by washing the nose with water or injecting water into the rectum to stimulate bowel movement and restore the body’s harmony with nature.

Naturopathy emphasizes the healing power of nature and is derived from traditional European practices. It focuses on finding the root cause of diseases and relies on the body’s innate ability to heal itself. Naturopathy prescribes a combination of diet, medicinal herbs, and physical therapies to restore an individual’s complete health.  

The fourth type of whole medical system is homeopathy, which is derived from German healthcare practices in which illness is can be cured by diluted remedies from a combination of plant, animal, and mineral extracts. 

  • Biologically-Based Therapies 

Biologically-based therapies use diet, herbs, and other forms of treatment to improve health conditions. 

Dietary instructions encourage eating healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables, to lower the risk of chronic diseases, like diabetes, hypertension, and heart ailments. It also advocates the consumption of probiotics or good bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented foods.  

On the other hand, herbal medicine, such as medical marijuana, can be obtained from the Sanctuary Wellness Institute and other botanical medicine providers.  They use herbs solely or in combination with others to provide organic remedies for known illnesses.    

  • Manipulative Body Practices 
Pulse diagnostic with hand on a tibetan medicine, close-up

Manipulative body practices rely on the body’s innate healing ability. These therapies serve to stimulate the body’s energy and encourage the release of toxins in the body. 

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that uses needles to stimulate specific points around the body to boost the body’s natural healing process. Several studies show that acupuncture can be effective in treating a number of conditions, such as neck and back pain, nausea, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and infertility.

Chiropractic medicine focuses on the spine and its function. A trained professional, known as a chiropractor, uses various methods to adjust the spine and other parts of the body to ensure proper form or alignment. It aims to alleviate pain, improve body function, and help the body heal naturally. Studies show that it can be helpful for headaches, neck pain, joint problems, and whiplash.

Cupping and moxibustion operate in the same way. The only difference is that cupping presses heated cups on acupuncture pressure points while moxibustion burns dried mugwort leaves near the skin. 

Reflexology uses various massage techniques in order to revive the body’s circulation and restore balance.

  • Mind Practices

Alternative medicines also harness the power of the mind to heal both mental and physical illnesses. Therapies such as meditation, biofeedback, and hypnosis are ways to help people improve their emotional health as well.

  • Energy Therapies 

Energy therapies rely on the energy fields that surround the body for healing. They can use magnets or touch to activate these energy fields in the body. On the other hand, the use of slow body movements employed in Qi Gong and Tai Chi are seen to help coordination of mind and body. 

Benefits of CAM 

People are turning to alternative medicine for a variety of reasons. They believe that the various forms of therapies can identify what causes disease in order to effectively prescribe long-term solutions for pain. Another reason for its increasing acceptance is that alternative medicine often uses natural medicine and techniques that are safer. They do not cause drug dependency but rather advocate for healthy lifestyle habits, such as diet and active lifestyles. Patients also look into alternative medicine because it provides them with a variety of options that are best suited to their values and beliefs. They provide people with a context for their illness and prescribe solutions based on a holistic perspective.

Conclusion 

Alternative medicine is a broad category of traditional healthcare practices from all over the world that view illness from a certain perspective. This philosophy translates into a complete system of treatment to include mind and body practices, diet and natural products, and energy therapies. It provides patients with numerous options for healing and wellness that it is becoming a popular alternative for integrative medicine and holistic well-being. 

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