People with medical problems are increasingly turning to alternative therapies. Alternative therapies evolved from a belief that modern medicine attempts to treat the disease, but ignores the entire patient. Supporters of alternative therapies believe that treating the entire person will restore physiological balance, leading to reversal of the disease process. This approach allows people to overcome the loss of control they feel when a medical professional prescribes a rigid treatment regimen. Alternative therapies include acupuncture, herbs, dietary supplements, meditation, yoga, art, and music therapy. Alternative therapies can offer benefit, though many are unproven.
Acupuncture is an ancient discipline that aims to restore physiological balance by inserting needles into electrical domains of the body. This has been shown to improve some chronic pain, and is covered by insurance for certain medical conditions.
Of the various alternative therapies, herbs and dietary supplements are the most subject to misuse. A federal law has exempted these products from federal standards on effectiveness. This has allowed manufacturers to claim their products can treat chronic fatigue, impotence, hair loss, and even cancer. To be fair, some products may be beneficial, such as garlic tablets for cholesterol and ginko for mental alertness. Furthermore, home remedies such as green tea are being studied and seem promising for cancer prevention. However, the reality is that most herbal products are ineffective at best, and at times outright dangerous, as evidenced by the multiple deaths attributed to ephedra, which was recently banned by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Meditation and yoga are ancient disciplines that help a person with a serious illness to cope. Good coping has a positive effect on treatment, because it enables adherence to a treatment plan. Meditation and yoga can promote a sense of general peace and well-being, and can be a beneficial part of a treatment program.
Music and art therapy is the application of aesthetics to promote wellness and coping. Like meditation and yoga, they allow people to take control of their treatment plans.
Hobbies and other activities have been considered alternative therapies. Water therapy, nature walks, fishing, and gardening can promote general wellness, and can be an important part of a person’s recovery.
Alternative therapies can be beneficial if used in conjunction with modern medical approaches, which is why the term ‘Complementary Medicine’ is replacing ‘Alternative Medicine’. It is a mistake to view alternative therapies as a replacement for modern medicine.