What is alternative therapy?
Alternative therapy (or alternative medicine) is a nonconventional approach to healing. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are usually discussed together, but are actually two different therapy approaches:
Complementary medicine. This is any form of therapy used in combination with standard or conventional medicine. Complementary therapy usually serves to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
Alternative medicine. Alternative medicine is used alone instead of proven standard medical treatment.
Some people use complementary treatments to relieve symptoms or side effects while getting standard or conventional treatment (such as guided imagery for pain relief during cancer treatment). Standard or conventional medicine refers to medical treatments that have been scientifically tested and found to be safe and effective. The standard or conventional treatments have been approved by the FDA.
Other people may decide to pursue alternative therapy. It’s highly recommended that you talk with your healthcare provider before beginning any alternative treatment, as these treatments are not scientifically tested or proven.
They can delay the use of proven methods or actually be harmful.
What are the different types of CAM?
Many different fields make up the practice of complementary and alternative medicine. In addition, many components of one field may overlap with the components of another field. Examples of CAM include:
Traditional alternative medicine
This field includes the more mainstream and widely accepted forms of therapy. Traditional alternative medicine has been practiced for centuries worldwide. Some examples are:
- Ayurveda. A medical practice from India consisting of herbal compounds and special diets.
- Homeopathy. A medical practice from Germany consisting of individualized remedies derived from plants, minerals, and animals.
- Naturopathy. A practice that takes a combination of traditional practices.
- Chinese or Oriental medicine
Touch has been used in medicine since the early days of medical care. Healing by touch is based on the idea that illness or injury located in one area of the body can affect all parts of the body. If, with manual manipulation, the other parts can be brought back to optimum health, the body can focus on healing at the site of injury or illness without distraction. Examples of body therapies include:
- Body movement
- Tai chi
Diet and herbs
Over the centuries, man has gone from a simple diet of meats, fruits, vegetables, and grains, to a diet that often consists of foods rich in fats, oils, and complex carbohydrates. Nutritional excess and nutritional deficiency have become problems in today’s society, both leading to certain chronic diseases. Many dietary and herbal approaches attempt to balance the body’s nutritional well-being. Dietary and herbal approaches include:
- Dietary supplements, minerals, and vitamins
- Herbal medicine
Some people believe external forces (energies) from objects or other sources directly affect a person’s health. An example of external energy therapy is electromagnetic therapy.
Standard or conventional medicine recognizes the power of the connection between mind and body. Studies have found that people heal better if they have good emotional and mental health. Therapies using the mind include:
Some people believe the senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste) can affect overall health. Therapies using senses include:
- Art, dance, and music
- Guided imagery
Before considering CAM
Most complementary and alternative medicine fields aren’t standardized or controlled by any Western medical guidelines. Always talk with your healthcare provider before beginning any complementary or alternative medicine therapy. Some therapies may interfere with standard treatment.
Being an informed healthcare consumer when considering complementary or alternative medicine is important. Ways to gather information before starting any therapy include:
- Talking with your healthcare provider
- Researching on the Internet
- Researching in the library (books, articles, and scientific journals)
- Speaking with others who have tried the therapy
- Looking for controlled, scientific studies about the therapy, whenever possible
What warning signs may indicate a fraudulent therapy?
According to the American Cancer Society, if a treatment has the following warning signs, it’s better to avoid:
- Treatment based on unproven theories
- Treatment that promises a cure
- Treatment that offers benefits but claims to have no side effects
- Patient is told not to use standard or conventional medicine
- Treatment is a secret and can only be given by certain providers
- Treatment requires travel to another country
- Treatment providers discourage the use of standard or conventional medicine