Alternative Medicine

Is alternative medicine effective or ineffective? Since the beginning of time there have been various cultures that have counted on what modern Western physicians refer to as alternative medicine. Before modern Western medicine became what it is today every illness was treated by some sort of natural remedy or alternative medicine. The debate still continues today whether or not alternative medicine is effective or if they are temporary solutions that will eventually lead to a turning towards Western medical treatments.

To clarify, “medicine” refers to a system which has its own philosophy and principles, which aims at maintaining health and wellness of the body and the mind. It also includes specific measurements that allow doctors to do diagnosis. Alternative medicine refers to any natural or homeopathic way to treat or cure pain, illness, and discomfort that a patient may be experiencing. Alternative medicine covers a broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies. It generally describes those treatments and health care practices that are outside mainstream Western health care.

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For example headaches are one of the most common complaints seen in the doctor’s office. They can cause significant pain and productivity loss. Although drug treatments are effective and available over the counter many people suffering from headaches often turn to one of the many alternative treatments available. Alternative treatments aimed at stress reduction, such as biofeedback and relaxation, are well-studied and considered effective treatments for some patients with headaches. There are additional “nontraditional” headache treatments, including acupuncture, massage, herbs, and diets, for which there are varying degrees of effectiveness.

One example suggests placing a few drops of peppermint oil at the base of the hairline to relax the muscle tension on one’s scalp, ideally relieving the headache. Another alternative solution would be to drink ginger tea made with real ginger root found at any local grocery store. The tea essentially relieves inflammation that will soothe and decrease the headache. As one can see from the examples above there are many solutions for a single problem. Yet who decides what solution is the correct solution? There are two main controversies to the use of alternative medical practices.

First, is the simplistic idea that using alternative methods is a psychological solution. Some believe that the remedies are build up in the patients head and do not actually physiologically affect the patient in anyway. The second argument claims that there is no statistical evidence that alternative methods hold any medical value or solve the patient’s illness and discomfort through the use of such methods. It is speculated that alternative medicine is based purely on personal experience of a therapy; however the same argument could be true of conventional drug treatment.

It is only because a clinical trial has taken place that the drug is deemed to work for everyone, and that is not always the case. Prescription drugs often effect each individual differently. It is true that certain conditions require traditional treatment but that is not to say that alternative medicine cannot be used alongside it. People use treatments and therapies in a variety of ways. Alternative therapies used alone are often referred to as alternative; when used in combination with other alternative remedies, or in addition to conventional treatments they are referred to as complementary.

Some therapies are too far outside the territory of the accepted Western medical concept. However some, like chiropractic care, are now established in mainstream medicine. Throughout recorded history, individuals of numerous cultures have relied on what Western medical practitioners today call alternative medicine. Many people think that alternative medicine is healthier because it relies on natural substances. A popular benefit of alternative medicine is that it does not have the nasty side-effects that pharmaceutical drugs can have.

An example of this is every drug add ever created ends with the incredibly quick speaking spokesman naming off a ridiculous amount of side effects that patients have experienced. According to the article Fields of Practice, many drugs commonly used today are of herbal origin: one-quarter of the prescription drugs dispensed by community pharmacies in the United States contain at least one active ingredient derived from plant material. Twenty years ago, few physicians would have instructed patients to take folic acid to prevent birth defects, vitamin E to promote a healthy heart, or vitamin C to support their immune systems.

Yet today, doctor and patient alike know of the lifesaving benefits of these vitamins. Twenty years ago, acupuncture, guided imagery, and therapeutic touch were considered outright fraud. Now, in clinics and hospitals around the country, non-traditional therapies are gaining wider acceptance as testimonials and studies report success using them to treat chronic illnesses such as back pain and arthritis. According to the U. S. Department of Education they have accredited more than twenty acupuncture schools and more than thirty medical schools now offer courses in acupuncture.

As the number of Western medical institutions researching alternative therapies increases, the legitimacy of at least some alternative therapies will also increase. Some alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and herbal medicine, have impressive histories dating back thousands of years. In America, professional and public interest in the field of alternative care has grown. The U. S. government established the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Its mission is to speed the discovery, development, and validation of potential treatments to complement our current healthcare system. Does this mean we are moving forward in alternative medicine? Critics say a conclusive scientific answer must await well-designed experiments involving many patients. Up to now, most of the studies have relied on personal observation and subjective testimonies from satisfied patients. The official position of the American Medical Association is that a patient’s improvement or recovery after alternative treatment might just as well be incidental to the action taken.

This may be true for scientists and researchers, but the fact is that the people seeking alternative treatments disagree. There are certainly situations where modern medicine is appropriate and lifesaving, but perhaps the weight has swung too far toward technology and standard pharmaceuticals and not enough toward some of the early healing methods that have a track record in many cultures. Modern medicine as well as alternative medicine has their place in society. Both methods of treatment serve their respective purposes depending on the diagnosis and each patient’s beliefs and circumstances.

However there is no reason why the two cannot be continuously integrated to one another to further the advancement of medicine. With so many Americans already using alternative treatments, it is important for doctors to better understand the principles of alternative medicine. The only solution to this never ending debate will be a crucial approach involving the consideration and benefits of both approaches during medical practitioner’s diagnosis process as well as throughout treatment.