Some alternative therapies were once the only therapies people knew. Ancient cultures have used herbal therapies, midwives have used them, Native American Cultures have used them. Acupuncture has been used in China for thousands of years. Today’s alternative therapies were once the mainstream therapies, then so called modern medicine stepped in and pushed the old ways into the dark. Before modern medicine women were the main caregivers, men were the originators of modern medicine. Mid-wives and wise-women were pushed out of the picture. The witch-hunt craze pushed the natural healers underground into darkness. Just recently America has started coming out of the darkness about alternative medicine. The free time of the 60’s and the New Age movement of the 90’s is bringing alternative medicine into full light.
Most alternative therapies have been around longer than modern medicine, but people, mainly medical doctors, argue about their usefulness and whether or not they have a place in medicine. Alternative medicine includes a very wide range of therapies, some that prove to be helpful and some that prove to be useless. Some of the most popular therapies are: acupuncture, massage therapy, aromatherapy, herbal medicine, homeopathic medicine, chiropractic medicine, and ayurvedic medicine. “Alternative medicine encompasses a baffling variety of remedies- from ancient healing systems like acupuncture and ayurveda, to new age crystal treatments. Few have been scrutinized in scientific studies- a task that takes time and money.” (1)
Alternative medicine is easy to attack because the term encompasses a wide range of therapies, some of which will undoubtedly prove useless. A number of unfamiliar therapies, however will be effective, and additions to our inadequate arsenals for combating chronic, degenerative or immune-related diseases should be welcomed. While the medical community has a quirky double-standard toward unconventional treatments( they are characterized as simultaneously ineffective and dangerous), there is evidence in the medical literature for the benefits of chiropractic, meditation,acupuncture, homeopathy and herbs.(2)
Conventional medicine has many serious weak spots that are making many people turn to alternative medicine. Conventional medicine mainly puts emphasis on crisis intervention while alternative medicine works on prevention.
Alternative therapies work with getting people healthy and keeping them that way. Alternative therapies work both with the mind and the body while conventional medicine plies the body with chemicals without considering that the mind may also be out of tune. Chemicals don’t fix the psychological or energy unbalances. Many conventional doctors scoff at alternative medicine claiming it is unscientific. “Physicians who disparage alternative therapies as unscientific might find conventional medicine lacking when held to the same standard. Many medical therapies have not been proven in randomized clinical trials. Science in medicine is a relatively recent phenomenon, and is by no means the prevailing standard of practice.” (3)
Some people in the medical field seem to have a preference for therapies that pose some risk over therapies that pose none. Many conventional therapies have risks, the medicines often have side effects, some that can even be fatal. The side effects of alternative therapies are benign, sometimes even pleasant. Alternative therapies are often dismissed without a fair test, but modern medicines get released onto the market without proper tests to know of the side effects.
Acupuncture is one of the most popular forms of alternative therapies. It has been used in China for thousands of years. Now it is almost becoming mainstream here in America. Some still scoff at it’s usefulness, while some medical doctors will even refer a patient to an acupuncturist fro treatments. Even doctors themselves will get acupuncture. Acupuncture is the use of tiny hair thin needles placed in certain nerve points to stimulate designated points along the body where energy flows. Acupuncture is often used to relieve chronic pain like arthritis. Acupressure is a form of massage therapy that uses the same pressure points and basic beliefs as acupuncture only without the needled. Shiatsu is the most popular form of acupressure.
Chiropractic care has often been thought to be a mainstream therapy, but most insurance companies wouldn’t pay for costs until very recent. In 1990 Americans spent $2.7 billion on chiropractic care making it the third largest primary heath care profession. Modern doctors are skeptical of chiropractic procedures. There are 45,000 licensed doctors of chiropractic care in the country. (4) The practice was founded in the 1800’s, based on the concept that illness results when pathways between nerves and the brain are upset by displaced vertebra. It is said manipulating the spine restores normal nerve function and helps correct problems. The manipulation is performed by adjusting the spine and vertebra. Most visit chiropractors for back pain, others for relief from orthopedic conditions and other musculoskeletal problems.
Aromatherapy is an alternative therapy based on the essential oils found in the plant kingdom and the manner in which they affect your sense of smell, touch and the way you think and feel. Essential oils can be used in different ways: inhaled, massaged into the skin, taken internally, or placed in bath water. The formation of aromatherapy can be traced back to the Egyptians. By the end of the 12th century it was popular in Europe. The French are mainly responsible for introducing aromatherapy to America. “The growing popularity of aromatherapy has brought a new awareness of the effects of various fragrances; recent studies show that perfumes can bring about profound physiological changes. The smell of vanilla, for example, reduces stress. Lemon wakes people up, and peppermint enhances concentration by up to 15 percent.” (7)
Ayurvedic Medicine is a therapy derived from more than 5000 years of traditional medicine in India. It uses meditation, herbs, diet, exercise, aromatherapy, massage and soothing sounds to restore mind-body harmony. Several studies show that Ayurvedic Medicine is best at reducing stress therefore stopping stress related illnesses and problems.
Herbal medicine is the use of herbs and other plants to treat wide ranges of conditions. For centuries herbs have been valued for medicinal properties. Even some modern medicines have herbal formulas or syntheticized herbal foundations. Many herbal formulas are available at health food stores . Herbology is particularly effective in eliminating what the Chinese call “evils”; viruses, infections, anything that invades the body from outside.
Homeopathic medicine was developed in the 1800’s. It is the use of extremely dilute amounts of natural substances to augment the body’s natural defenses against illness. Homeopathic medicines are available at small New Age stores and even some of the larger chains like Walgreens and K-Mart.
Many alternative medicines and therapies assume that mind and body are subtly interlocked and influence each other powerfully. Energy is the big theme in most alternative therapies, but modern medicine has no equivalent for the natural human energies. A number of alternative techniques are widely accepted in Europe and have been for along time. American physicians are mainly skeptical, but they are starting to see the light.
Today’s American people are very focused on health care and their options. Many are noticing the shortcomings of modern medicine and turning to the new age and age old therapies. The growth of alternative medicine is more than a fad. It reflects the dissatisfaction with conventional medicine. (5) 1 out of 3 adults say they have tried some form of unconventional therapies. (6) A growing number of doctors are becoming more open to alternative therapies.
Alternative therapies need to be studied in a more positive light without the unfairness and criticism that they are usually dealt with. If it can be proven which ones are useful more people would use them and more people would be healthier and happier. Some of the therapies should have a place in modern medicine. Modern medicine and Alternative medicine both have their advantages and if this could be seen they could be combined to be more effective.