Alternative medicine. Holistic medicine. Complementary medicine. Integrative medicine. Mind-body medicine. While linguists might quibble over the semantics of these terms, they all refer to roughly the same concept: the use of treatment modalities that don’t conform to allopathic notions of how to prevent and cure disease.
In fact, Western medicine’s very approach to disease as an isolated, isolatable focus, while not quite anathema to alternative medicine, is at least misguided. Practitioners and proponents of treatments such as acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), dietary supplements, reiki, Ayurveda, and others argue that to treat only a disease is to do the patient a grave disservice. Instead, they say, a holistic picture of the patient’s health — physical, emotional, and in some cases even spiritual — is necessary to adequately address any imbalance or issue.
Many of these treatment modalities have been around for hundreds or even thousands of years. Here in the Western world, we’re only beginning to catch up — and in many cases, apply scientific methods to studying their efficacy. Let’s take a look at some of the ways complementary medicine is stepping into the spotlight, in 2019 and beyond.
Movement as Medicine
The practice of yoga dates back to 3000 B.C., when it originated in India. Yoga, and its Chinese counterparts tai chi and qi gong, focus on the intersection between breath and movement. In its original form, yoga has a strong spiritual aspect as well, although many modern practitioners aren’t as interested in that as they are yoga’s effects on emotional and physical well-being.
One of the benefits of yoga and other forms of movement medicine? There’s a huge variety of styles to choose from, so practitioners of all sizes, shapes, and fitness levels can find one that suits them. Some types of yoga, like Bikram and Vinyasa, help you work up a healthy sweat; others, such as gentle yoga or even baby goat yoga, are more restorative or emotionally beneficial.
Do you ever chew a melatonin gummy when you fear becoming jet-lagged, or just for the occasional sleepless night? What about echinacea, SAMe, fish oil capsules, or magnesium? Those are just some of the dietary supplements that have gained favor with folks who balk at taking too many pharmaceutical pills.
Ideally, humans would get all the vitamins and minerals we need to thrive from our food or other natural sources — such as the sun’s Vitamin D delivery system. In today’s urban, modernized world, however, that’s not always possible. Enter supplements.
One of the most promising supplements in recent years is CBD oil. Anecdotal and scientific evidence point to this compound, sourced from the cannabis plant but very different from its high-inducing cousin THC, as a panacea. It has been shown to help with issues ranging from epilepsy and Alzheimer’s to acne, depression, and diabetes. It’s especially useful for treating arthritis, skin inflammation, and even separation anxiety in dogs, according to the pet health experts at Cannabidog.com.
The Good Kind of Manipulation
Doctors of chiropractic take a lot of guff for not being “real” doctors, but there’s plenty of real science pointing to this discipline’s ability to help back pain sufferers and others. Similarly, osteopathic manipulation, massage therapy, and myofascial release have all be shown to be efficacious in treating issues like high blood pressure, addiction, fibromyalgia, and depression.
From there, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to healing energy practices such as reiki, acupuncture, and reflexology. These are still hands-on physical approaches to healing, but they also address the body’s energy centers and meridians to restore balance to the entire system. Still other treatments take into account the necessity of resolving deep-seated emotional trauma at the same time they work to rectify physical issues.
Is Complementary Medicine Right for You?
Just as one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, one person’s pseudoscience is another’s panacea. Your friend might swear by rolfing, hydrotherapy, or aromatherapy, but you might not see any benefit besides a pleasant smell and a sense of relaxation. It might take some experimentation — not to mention a bit of blind faith — before you find a complementary medicine protocol that works for you.
And while some people, the same ones who would use the term “alternative medicine,” choose to steer clear of allopathic treatments and Big Pharma altogether, others view it as a complement to seeing their M.D. regularly and maybe taking an antibiotic or antidepressant. Which path you take, and what practices work for you, is a very personal matter.