It wasn’t too long ago that doctors who used alternative medicine methods of healing patients were labeled quacks. In fact, I remember the funny looks from fellow colleagues when I told them I thought herbal products and supplements had a lot to offer traditional medicine!
In addition, years ago, people who turned to vitamin and mineral supplements as prevention against illness were labeled ‘health nuts’. Today, however, these same people are said to practice proactive wellness as nutritional healing ideas have become widespread.
In fact, despite all the TV ads for drugs, more and more of my patients are opening up to the idea that popping a prescription pill for what ails them might not be the only answer. As I always tell them, there are many natural remedies that can be tried before resorting to drugs or surgery.
If you’re a newcomer to alternative medicine, I’d like to share with you a little history of the field. Then, I’d like to tell you a little about some successful alternative healing remedies as well as a little about the future of alternative medicine.
Allopathic vs. Naturopathic
What we refer to as alternative medicine practices today were, and still are, traditional medicine in China, India, the Middle East, and Europe. Did you know that herbal and homeopathic medicine were also the cornerstones of the American Popular Health Movement in the 1830s-50’s? That’s right! Osteopathic and chiropractic medicine also developed around the same time.
By 1849, however, the popular uses of herbal and homeopathic remedies were deemed quackery by the American Medical Association which had formed two years earlier. Several years later, chiropractic also fell out of favor. Treating patients with prescription drugs, or allopathic medicine, set the standard of health care in the U.S. for decades to follow.
Now, in 2010, the pendulum is swinging back to the popular health practices of over 150 years ago! With the dangerous, sometimes life-threatening, side effects of prescription drugs, the cost of medical care today, and insurance issues, people have begun to reconsider alternatives.
The renewed interest in herbal, homeopathic, midwifery, chiropractic, and acupuncture has skyrocketed in the U.S. today. In addition, cutting-edge research into energy, and mind/body healing, is also commanding attention around the world.
Even traditional medical doctors (M.D.’s) are integrating natural-based healing remedies into their practices, and a whole new field of medicine called Integrative Medicine has formed.
Now, let me explain to you a little more about each of the more common alternative practices so you can better understand what they are and how they function:
- Herbal – made from natural, plant-based substances. These products have been used safely for centuries by the Chinese, Indians, and Native Americans. They’ve been a boon to women in safe hormone replacement therapy and men’s prostate health with saw palmetto and lycopene. However, do consult a naturopathic or integrative medicine doctor before trying to treat an illness with herbal preparations.
- Homeopathic – based on the “law of similars”, a minute quantity of medicine is diluted many times and used, much like a vaccine, to create a reaction that stimulates the body to heal itself. Success with allergies, pain, mineral imbalance-based illnesses, and more, has been achieved with homeopathy. Consult a homeopathic for proper use.
- Chiropractic – based on the principle of proper alignment of the skeletal structure so that nerves coming off the spinal cord are not pinched. These nerves are then able to properly feed, or enervate, different parts of the body to prevent and correct disease states. Back and neck pain as well as nerve compression issues have had success with chiropractic.
- Acupuncture, acupressure, and reflexology – based on the concept of qi energy and the belief that illness occurs when this energy does not flow correctly. Certain meridians on the body are manipulated by inserting hair-thin needles into the skin, or using fingertips to press on these areas. Addiction (smoking, drugs, alcohol, weight), chronic pain, nervous tics, have all been treated successfully. Reiki is another similar practice that involves manipulating the electrical field that surrounds humans with a practitioner’s hands.
- Energy Medicine – Mechanical energy, sound, heat, electricity, magnetism, light (ultraviolet, infrared, laser), plasma (color) therapies modalities have been used for the past 100 years as a “fringe” treatment. Today, mainstream medicine uses ultraviolet light for skin problems; lasers in surgery; infrared (and Far InfraRed) light to reduce inflammation and pain; sound is also used to break up kidney stones. The future of energy healing is wide open and mind-boggling.
- Anti-Aging Medicine – based on the principle of replacing nutrients that deplete with age which start the deterioration we call aging. Focuses on supplementation with anti-oxidants, etc, to keep cells regenerating at their youthful levels. New paths involve the study of telomere lengthening. Telomeres are human DNA structures that shorten each time a cell replicates until they die. Supplementing with the building blocks of telomeres, can keep their youthful length and you healthy, much longer.
- Mind/Body Healing – based on the principle that the mind can influence healing in the body through specific, directed thoughts; it is what biofeedback is based on. It has been very successful with controlling pain and certain psychological disorders.
There you have the basics of what alternative medicine is. The future is blindingly bright with all the advances it continues to make on a daily basis. In the near future, I feel that most of what we refer to as alternative medicine today will be mainstream medicine tomorrow. In 2010, it’s traveled a long road to get where it is today and its potential for human healing is enormous!