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Alternative medicine refers to medical therapies that help replace the standard (mainstream) treatment options. Some people also call it “integrative” or “complementary medicine.” Alternative medicine has been around for centuries, but it’s only in recent years that the practice of alternative medicine has become more mainstream. Understanding Alternative Medicine is a complex and confusing topic, which makes it difficult to know where to start.
In simple words, it is a form of healthcare that focuses on the use of non-traditional practices. It can be used to improve one’s health, as well as treat certain diseases or disorders. Understanding alternative medicines and how they work is important to make an educated decision about what type of treatment you want.
When a hospital does not have a practitioner who practices Traditional Chinese Medicine and offers cupping, acupuncture, or herbs for dampness and wind, there is usually no other option but to recommend guided imagery on a TV channel. One of those videos showing lush scenery as lovely music plays while trembling nursing students with IV needles figure out the difference between tendons and veins.
Understanding Alternative Medicine
When it comes to understanding alternative medicines, there are many misconceptions circulating among the public. Understanding alternative medicines can be difficult because some of these treatments seem to contradict one another. Understanding the characteristics, benefits and drawbacks of different types of treatment will help to better inform a decision about how you want to treat your condition.
Nurses should be aware that there is a whole spectrum from fraudulent to miraculous claims on this topic. The majority of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) modalities have been validated through research but do not fit into the fast pace of our conventional health system, while others have been heavily marketed but are not highly effective.
For more on that, you’ll have to read the book The Grecian Garden: A Natural Path to Wellness. Many multi-level-marketing companies are jumping on the natural health bandwagon–usually with inferior products. What are the ones you’d like the scoop on?
One misconception is that all forms of alternative medicine are holistic in nature. Holistic practices focus on treating the body as a whole with an emphasis on lifestyle changes rather than just symptoms or conditions. There are other types of therapies such as energy healing or homoeopathy which may not be considered holistic but still offer significant health benefits for sufferers who have chosen them over more conventional methods like surgery or prescription drugs.
How Alternative Medicine Works
A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that 38 percent of American adults use alternative medicine. Understanding the different types of alternative medicine and how they work can be a challenge. Understanding what medical professionals consider “alternative” is helpful since many people do not realize that certain practices are considered mainstream in other countries.
For example, Americans might think acupuncture or herbal remedies are alternatives but will discover these treatments have been used for centuries by Chinese physicians as part of their practice. Understanding this kind of cultural context helps us to understand why someone would use an alternative treatment like acupuncture rather than seeing it as simply out-of-fashion.
A good way to start considering whether a therapy is appropriate for you is knowing your goals and assessing whether there’s any research supporting its effectiveness at achieving them.
Branches of Alternative Medicine
In fact, there is simply not enough evidence for the health products that line the walls of supermarkets, and people are wasting billions of dollars every year on supplements that only make their health problems worse. Keeping GNC in business is not the only objective of natural health. Natural products and various practices are often combined in CAM.
There are many different branches of alternative medicine. When using natural products, herbal remedies and various practices to treat illnesses or promote health, it is not always clear whether the person’s condition will improve because of all these methods.
However, herbs have been used as medicines for centuries. The use of plants such as eucalyptus leaves (used in respiratory allergies) can be traced back several thousand years ago much longer than Western medical treatments like penicillin which was first discovered during World War II.
Alternative medication has a long history with roots that go far deeper than what most people would expect from its name alone; however, there are still some aspects about this ancient healing art that make us scratch our heads. The use of herbs for medicinal purposes is an ancient tradition that extends to over 5000 years ago when Egyptian physician and philosopher Imhotep wrote the first known documentation on herbal remedies.
Today, around 80% of what we call (alternative) medicines are plant-based treatments originating from traditional Asian practices such as Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine. Alternative medicine has existed in many forms: tinctures, teas, oils applied topically or even ashes mixed with water into a paste to treat various ailments throughout history.
Research is sparsest for energy therapies, including laser therapy, magnet therapy, and radiation therapy that avoids electromagnetic fields. While it is difficult to quantify the effects of energy medicine, it is a system of care. The homoeopathic system is based on the philosophy that cures like. To achieve healing, it delivers extremely diluted substances. By incorporating diet, exercise, and therapies such as massage, Naturopathy is based on the idea that diseases can be successfully treated or prevented without drugs.
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Functional medicine is on the opposite end of the spectrum from energy and homoeopathic approaches. Despite the similarities between functional philosophy and complementary and alternative medicine, the treatment methods used in functional medicine vary from vitamin and herbal supplements to advanced genetic testing. In addition to unique treatments using conventional pharmaceuticals, functional medicine can also use long-term IV antibiotics in chronic Lyme Disease.
It is difficult to combine conventional medicine and complementary medicine due to the differences in historical development, ideas, and practice settings. It’s like those yoghurts with dying probiotics in them. There isn’t as much diversity or robustness of the bacteria population as in regular yoghurt, so it doesn’t actually improve health conditions.
Alternative Medicine Philosophy
CAM providers view symptoms as clues to underlying causes rather than problems to eradicate. This relates to working with the body to heal itself and finding the root causes of illness.
It is about recognizing the value of prevention and health promotion, which are critical to a holistic approach. Alternative medicine can also be seen as an evolution from traditional Western or allopathic medical practices with their focus on treating illness after it has arisen rather than preventing illnesses in the first place.
In this sense, CAM therapies may offer additional options for more people who want to take responsibility for their own wellness without seeking professional help when they feel unwell; particularly those whose symptoms may not warrant conventional treatment. Understanding Alternative Medicine means that you know what your body needs before you get sick – and how best to soothe any ailments that do arise by using natural remedies like herbal supplements.
Some sceptics argue that alternative medicines are “quackery” and have no use in modern medicine. Yet others say it is a waste of time and money to pursue alternatives because they can’t work against the likes of cancer or AIDS, for example. However, many people swear by this type of treatment—and continue to do so despite its lack of FDA approval.
Alternative medicinal treatments include acupuncture, herbal remedies, aromatherapy, hypnotherapy (a form of psychotherapy), massage therapy, homoeopathy (which makes patients feel better by giving them small doses of toxins that cause similar symptoms as their illness) among other things.
Homoeopathic Remedies & Vaccines Purport
Although both homoeopathic remedies and vaccines purport to contain tiny amounts of a toxin, they are not equivalent or even remotely comparable. Understanding the difference between these two procedures can be a key to helping patients understand that homoeopathy does not provide adequate protection against common illnesses.
Now about that Patient
Nursing communication with all patients is enhanced when nurses know how patients perceive both CAM and traditional healthcare. CAM depends on patient empowerment and involvement, so advocacy and empathy are crucial. Any answer choice on the NCLEX that mentions advocacy or empathy is probably the right choice. While nurses learn about CAM therapies, they should remain objective while providing the best possible care for their patients.
It’s most likely that your hospital does not employ cupping. If you want to find out if Phenergan is compatible with ginger essential oil, you don’t have to write one or consult an obscure protocol. What are your hospital’s strategies for dealing with these issues? Let me know in the comments.
Understanding Alternative Medicine is just one of many treatments available for people who are seeking relief from chronic pain and other ailments without resorting to prescription medications or surgery. Understanding this type of treatment, including possible side effects and how alternatives may work differently than traditional medicine, is an important step in making educated decisions about your health care needs.
Nick Angelis, CRNA, MSN, is the author of How to Succeed in Anesthesia School (And RN, PA, or Med School) and regularly writes or presents continuing education articles on a variety of boring or fascinating topics. Thankfully, he also has a thing for fiction, non-fiction guides for students and clinicians, and satire closely resembling non-fiction. Nick works as a nurse anesthetist in the Florida Panhandle and enjoys playing several sports poorly. You can connect with him on Twitter or Instagram.
Melanie Angelis, MS CAM, is the author of The Grecian Garden: A Natural Path to Wellness and the owner of Nourished in Eden. Melanie began her career as a teacher, but after researching her way to health naturally from a variety of puzzling conditions, she pursued a Graduate Certificate in Holistic Nutrition and Masters of Science in Complementary and Alternative Medicine from American College of Healthcare Sciences. She offers educational workshops and works individually with clients to improve their health with many of the modalities mentioned in this article.
Angelis M. “Therapy for Wellness.” In: The Grecian Garden: A Natural Path to Wellness. Pensacola, Fla.: Indigo River;2016:133-136.
Angelis N. CAM vs Traditional Medicine. Advance for Nurses. Retrieved from NursingAdvanceWeb.com