The Many Ways of Healing
Modern medicine continues to astound us with new discoveries and medicines that work to heal the sick and ease the pain of suffering. But what happens when those treatments fail to work, or aren’t working well enough? What happens when the cons of a medicine or treatment outweigh the pros, when taking medicine makes you have to decide between staving off early-onset disease or possibly increasing your risk for life-threatening side effects? For many people, this is when they turn to complementary and alternative medicine to aid in the healing process.
Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, is increasingly being embraced by people seeking therapies to improve their health. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, some 40% of Americans are using CAM to help with pain or chronic conditions. But what is CAM?
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health, CAM is defined as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional Western medicine, (which is medicine as practiced by health professionals such as doctors, nurses, and psychologists). More specifically, according to the Mayo Clinic, this includes:
Whole medicine systems
Biologically based practices
Manipulative and body-based practices
CAM is commonly used together with conventional Western medicine or used by itself as an alternative when modern techniques don’t prove to be effective. Many of these CAMs are ancient practices still used today.
The following is more information about different types of CAM available.
Whole Medicine Systems
Chinese medicine: Practiced and developed in China over the last 2,000 years, this range of medicine is based on various forms of herbal medicines, acupuncture, and the practice of qigong, aligning breath, movement, healing, and medidtation. There has been some study toward the effectiveness of Chinese medicine. A 2011 review in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine concluded that acupuncture was effective in the treatment of migraines, tension headaches, and certain types of arthritis. Also many Chinese herbal remedies, such as ginseng, have been show to have health benefits.
Homeopathy: Based on the idea that “like cures like,” homeopathy bases remedies on the dilution of a chosen substance (usually something that will cause symptoms of a disease in healthy people, such as cat allergens for people who are allergic to pet dander). It works in the theory that symptoms or diseases can be cured through small doses of exposure. While homeopathic remedies are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, their effectiveness and safety are not.
Naturopathy: This is a form of medicine based on the belief in vitalism and the idea that a special energy called “vital energy” guides the bodily processes, such as growth, reproduction, and metabolism. A holistic approach to health, naturopathy seeks to find the lease invasive ways in which to improve symptoms and health (so as to avoid surgery or use of drugs).
Mediation: Practiced for thousands of years, meditation was originally used to help deepen the understanding of mystical and spiritual forces. Now, meditation is commonly used for relaxation and to help reduce stress. Types of meditation include mantra meditation, tai chi, and transcendental meditation. Yoga, in addition to being great for strength and flexibility, is also a form of meditation.
Hypnotherapy: Hypnosis is a trance-like state where a person under hypnosis has a heighted focused or is more open to suggestion for modification of behavior, perceptions, or sensations. Different from the sort of hypnosis you might see on stage, therapeutic hypnosis is used to improve health and wellness, such as in efforts to quit smoking. According to the Mayo Clinic, hypnotherapy can be used for pain control, mental health conditions, weight loss, or to help with other health problems such as allergies or gastrointestinal issues.
Biologically based practices
Probiotics: Live organism that are thought to be helpful to a host organism, probiotics that are commonly used for health benefits include certain types of yeasts and bacilli, such as those “active cultures” you can find in yogurt. These bacteria help maintain the natural balance in the gastrointestinal tract, and can help with symptoms from diarrhea, yeast infections, or after effects of using antibiotics.
Supplements: Recent studies show that about half of Americans take dietary supplements. These include vitamins (like C) and minerals (like iron), and oils (like omega-3 rich fish oils). Some dietary supplements have been proven to have beneficial effects, such as calcium and vitamin D in the prevention of osteoporosis, or folic acid for pregnant women wanting to decrease the risk of birth defects in babies. Though not a substitute for a healthy and balanced diet, supplements can help bridge some of the gaps that can’t always be reached through food alone.
Manipulative and Body-Based Practices
Spinal manipulative therapy: Practiced by health care practitioners such as chiropractors and physical therapists, these health care professionals perform spinal manipulation on patients by using their hands or a device that applies controlled force to the spine. It is often used as a treatment for people with lower-back pain.
Massage therapy: Massages can help you relax, but there are types of massage that target specific muscles to help prevent or alleviate pain from muscle injuries. Massage can also be used to help with blood pressure control and to manage anxiety.
Magnet therapy: The practice of using static magnetic fields to help produce health benefits, some practitioners claim that it helps particularly with blood flow in underlying tissues, and for pain issues.
Light therapy: Light therapy has shown some benefits in particular for people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Treatment usually consists of a person sitting near a box that gives off a bright light that mimics sunlight. The Mayo Clinic says that light therapy has been proven to help with symptoms of seasonal depression.
As always, when it comes to medicine, it is important to make informed decisions about how we treat our bodies. What works for one person may not be the best choice for another. But isn’t it great to know that with modern medicine, we have so many options available to us? Talk to your local health care providers and do as much research as you can in order to make the right choice for your body. If you are looking for a starting point to learn more about alternative medicine, be sure to check out the resource list on the opposite page.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine Options Near You:
Annapolis Integrative Medicine
1819 Bay Ridge Ave, Suite 200
Annapolis, MD 21403
Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine
2200 Kernan Drive, 2nd Floor*
Baltimore, MD 21207
(Temporarily relocated-see website)
Integrative Medicine Practice for Children and Adults
Letitia W. Short, MD LLC
901 Dulaney Valley Rd. Suite 101
Towson, MD 21204
Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine & Digestive Center
(formerly known as Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine)
Greenspring Station–Joppa Concourse
2360 W. Joppa Rd., Suite 200
Lutherville, MD 21093
Natural Family Wellness with Vanessa Allen, MD
12200 Annapolis Rd, Suite 115
Glenn Dale, MD 20769
National Integrated Health Associates
5225 Wisconsin Ave. NW Suite 402, Washington, DC 20015
7750 Montpelier Rd.
Laurel, MD 20723
Washington Institute of Natural Medicine
2101 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20016
(With locations in Kensington and Gaithersburg, MD)
There are also tons of wellness centers, chiropractic offices and acupuncturists in the Maryland/DC area. Check your local phone book or online to find the nearest one to you.
For more information and resources:
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
Alternative Medicine Foundation
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