Alternative medicine / unconventional medicine / holistic medicine includes a wide range of approaches, therapies and health products which are not part of conventional western medicine.
Not long ago, most alternative medical practices were considered useless by both doctors and the public. Recently, however, several practices have been found to be effective and have gained popularity.
Proponents of alternative medicine argue that holistic medicine is safer and more natural than conventional treatment.
Opponents claim that unconventional practices are unproven, since the number of scientific studies done so far is insufficient.
Alternative medicine tries to treat the whole person. Besides physical symptoms, the patient’s mental and emotional well-being, his lifestyle, environment and diet are also considered before practitioners prescribe the appropriate treatment. It also places strong emphasis on the prevention of health problems.
Alternative medicine is often used alongside conventional therapies. In cancer clinics, for example, acupressure helps reduce nausea caused by chemotherapy.
MAIN TYPES OF HOLISTIC MEDICINE
Ayurveda (=the science of life) originated in India. It uses diet, exercise and meditation to achieve the harmony of body, mind and spirit.
Traditional Chinese medicine aims to achieve a balance of energy in the body, because ailments are thought to be caused by energy disturbances. It applies herbal medicine, massage, exercise, nutritional therapies, acupuncture and energy therapy.
Homeopathy, an ancient Greek practice, is based on the principle ‘like cures like’ or ‘like with like’. It supposes that a substance which causes symptoms in a healthy person can cure the same symptoms in someone who is sick.
Naturopathic medicine is based on the theory that the body is able to heal itself as long as it gets clean air and water, right food and exercise. Toxins, additives and pollutants accumulated in the body weaken the immune system, which, in turn, loses its vital power of healing. Naturopathy uses hydrotherapy, diet, detoxification, acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage and other techniques to restore the body’s balance.
Acupuncture is one of the most widely used forms of holistic medicine. It seeks to balance the flow of energy by fingertip pressure or by inserting fine needles into selected points. It is known to be effective in relieving pain, helping give up addictions and promoting general health.
Herbal medicine is the most ancient form of medicine in the world. A great majority of people still rely on it, and a quarter of our prescription drugs are made from plants.
Manual healing covers a range of techniques like massage therapy, reflexology (rubbing particular areas of the feet) and osteopathy.
According to mind-body control the mind is able to heal the body. Hypnosis helps deal with pain, anxiety or addictions. Psychotherapy, meditation and yoga are used for relaxation. Art, dance, music and light therapies are also widespread mind-body techniques.
Bioelectromagnetics uses magnetic fields to facilitate the healing process of the body and mind.
RISK ASSOCIATED WITH ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Most alternative therapies are safe. Having fewer side effects, they are usually gentler than conventional treatments. However, one must always approach holistic therapies with caution.
Acupuncture is safe if practiced by a qualified practitioner; if the needles are sterile and inserted correctly.
Herbs may be contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals. At high dosage they may have serious side effects such as high blood pressure, liver damage or allergic reaction.
Choosing a reliable licensed practitioner is of great importance. Inexperienced or untrained practitioners may do more harm than good. One of the greatest risks is delaying or preventing proven traditional treatment in favour of holistic medicine. There are diseases that are best treated using conventional methods.
Finally, patients receiving both alternative and conventional therapy must always inform their doctor so that drug interactions can be avoided.