When talk of alternative therapies comes up, many assume, sometimes incorrectly, that people choose alternative medicine based on dissatisfaction with their current treatments and care. And, of course, there are certainly some people that do feel dissatisfied with the healthcare system here in the United States; however, an article from Science Based Medicine.com found that people often turn to alternative medicine to broaden their options for care or because alternative medicine simply aligns more correctly with their personal beliefs.
More and more alternative medicine is becoming more widely accepted, as evidenced by the new alternative medical centers popping up everywhere. So, if you’re considering alternative medicine or have questions about it, keep reading. This article will discuss alternative medicine and how it compares to traditional medicine and hopefully answer all your questions.
What is alternative medicine?
As we’ve discussed in some of our previous articles, alternative therapies and medicine are any treatments or interventions implemented in place of traditional medicine. Alternative medicine takes a holistic approach and aims to address health issues that can be physical in nature or emotional, such as pain or anxiety, and depression.
For this reason, alternative medicine and therapies can be used independently to treat health issues, such as cancer or diabetes, or as a supplement to other treatments. What’s more, there are many alternative therapies that will help either support the effects of a treatment or counteract unpleasant side effects. When patients and providers blend conventional and alternative medicine, it is known as integrative medicine.
How does alternative healthcare compare to traditional medicine?
Although the term traditional medicine is often used throughout this article, it refers to what we know as modern medicine, which is practiced in most hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices across our nation. Some other names for modern medicine include allopathic, conventional, mainstream, and Western medicine.
We can thank quite a few people for the current medical model used today- Louis Pasteur, Florence Nightingale, and Jonas Salk, to name a few. However, ultimately, what we have today is a medical system that often looks at the end product of disease (symptoms) and addresses those symptoms through prescription drugs and procedures rather than uncovering and addressing the underlying cause(s).
Sadly, a significant reason for the heavy use of medications and procedures to manage symptoms is simply a lack of training or comfort in recommending lifestyle modifications and complementary therapies to help ease and resolve many symptoms and health conditions.
Conversely, alternative medical approaches dig deeper to discover the cause of symptoms and disease. Moreover, alternative courses to medicine also identifies any health issues that may not produce symptoms but are roadblocks to a person’s ability to reach optimal health.
Another difference between modern and alternative medicine is the approach to treatment. As highlighted above, modern medicine often quickly prescribes a medication or procedure to resolve an issue in one body system (i.e., diabetes medication for persistently elevated blood glucose). However, alternative medicine approaches look at why someone is experiencing persistent hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) to address that issue and, in turn, resolve the blood sugar concerns.
What types of alternative medicines are there?
Since the term alternative medicine solutions encompass so many facets, alternative medicine can be broken down into two sections- alternative therapies and alternative integrated medical services.
Alternative therapies are categorized into four areas of approach:
- Nutritional therapies: This category of treatments includes approaches that focus on changing and improving nutrition through foods and supplements.
- Physiologic therapies: This category of alternative therapies includes practices that focus on the mind-body connection.
- Physical therapies: This category includes therapies that focus on physical manipulation and touch.
- Combination therapies: This category includes therapies that rely on both the mind and body.
Many alternative therapies are now mainstream, so that many therapies will sound familiar to most people. Some alternative therapy examples include:
- Chiropractic therapy
In addition to alternative therapies, whole medical systems also fall under the alternative medicine umbrella that can replace traditional medicine if the patient chooses. Some non-traditional medical approaches include:
- Ayurveda: Ayurveda is an ancient Indian practice still practiced in India today. Ayurveda focuses on cleansing impurities while building disease resistance and increasing harmony in one’s life and body.
- Naturopathic medicine: Naturopaths are medical providers who treat their patients holistically while opting for minimally risky and minimally-invasive interventions meant to heal the root cause of diseases.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine: Like Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine is an ancient medicinal practice. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) includes acupuncture, herbal treatments, and Tai Chi. Through its multifaceted approach, TCM can ease symptoms and increase relaxation.
- Functional medicine: Like other pathways to alternative medicine, functional medicine views the patient as a whole and considers how issues in the mind, body, and spirit can intermingle to produce symptoms. Functional medicine aims to heal the person by identifying the root cause(s) to resolve current health concerns while preventing future illness.
- Homeopathy: Homeopathic approaches to health focus on treating like with like. Many homeopathic practices are seen throughout modern medicine. One such example would be vaccines. However, some homeopathic practices are alternatives to conventional medicine.
What are the benefits of seeking alternative medical care?
As discussed above, there are so many reasons people turn to alternative medicine. Yet, many are still curious about the benefits of non traditional medicine. The first is its focus on prevention. Many people are tired of being sick and are looking for ways to restore their health, and alternative medicine offers that.
Second, because alternative medicine is often unencumbered by traditional insurance payments, patients can expect individualized, undivided attention during their visits. Lastly, alternative medicine takes a holistic approach, so providers explore every possible cause of illness. As a result of these benefits, many people also have the following additional benefits.
- Enhanced quality of life
- Improved health
- Increased flexibility
- No dependence on medications
- A natural balance in all aspects of life
And finally, and most importantly, alternative health care gives the power back to the patient. Doctors encourage patients to make lifestyle changes to improve their health and vitality.
What to pick? Traditional medicine versus alternative healthcare
Ultimately, the decision is up to you whether you continue with conventional medicine, switch to alternative healthcare, or combine the two in integrative healthcare. As you’ve read, alternative medicine includes therapies and whole medical systems, such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. While some people feel pulled to fully adopt alternative medicine, others still like the balance between the two modalities – traditional and alternative medicine.
When deciding which way to go, some things to consider are:
Scientific evidence: The golden standard for medical care these days is evidence-based practices. In caring for their patients, doctors use the best available research on which they base their decisions. While research has come a long way for both conventional and alternative medicine, many modalities in alternative medicine have yet to be extensively evaluated.
Still, many therapies, such as yoga, oil pulling (an Ayurvedic practice), and meditation, have been studied, and researchers have found abundant evidence showing these therapies positively affect patients. What’s more, most alternative treatments are very benign in their approach. For example, techniques such as Tai Chi and meditation have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, with thousands of people experiencing their benefits of them. Still, looking at an apples-to-apples comparison between conventional treatments and alternative therapies for the same health conditions is essential.
Availability: While the possibility of a positive outcome with an alternative treatment sounds lovely, it’s useless if a particular therapy is not accessible. And the same can be said of traditional medical treatment. So, if there is a particular therapy you’re interested in, doing some research will help determine if it is available in your area.
Comfort level: As with everything, you should be clear about your comfort level in seeking alternative therapies. As mentioned above, many treatments are harmless as they rely on channeling energy or reaping the benefits of strengthening and stretching (yoga); however, as with many things in life, you get what you put into it. And again, the same applies to traditional medicine. So, before seeking alternative therapies, ensure you know your comfort level with pursuing a center for alternative medicine.
Alternative Medicine at Shakthi Health and Wellness Center
Dr. Jyothi Rao-Mahadevia is a board-certified doctor with over 20 years of experience caring for patients with various health concerns.
Having received a Master’s degree in Metabolic Nutrition and completed a fellowship in anti-aging, regenerative, and functional medicine, Dr. Rao-Mahadevia profoundly understands and appreciates alternative medicine approaches. While there is a time and place for medications, honoring and empowering patients to regain control over their health is a passion-led mission for Dr. Rao-Mahadevia.
At Shakthi Health and Wellness Center we have a alternative treatment center located in Mt. Airy and Elkridge, MD, Dr. Rao-Mahadevia incorporates both conventional and alternative medicine to develop a personalized treatment plan to help restore your health and improve your vitality. If you live in the area and are ready to take back control over your health, schedule a consultation or call us at (301)703-5067 to answer any questions you may have. We look forward to helping you on your health journey.
Why Do People turn to Alternative Medicine | Science-Based Medicine (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
Ayurveda | Johns Hopkins Medicine
What is Naturopathic Medicine? Learn more Now with AANMC
Traditional Chinese Medicine: What You Need To Know | NCCIH (nih.gov)
Alternative vs. Traditional Medicine | Winchester Hospital
Identifying The Root Cause of Disease: Functional Medicine Doctors (webmd.com)
9 Incredible Benefits of Alternative Medicine – Western Pennsylvania Healthcare News (wphealthcarenews.com)
Alternative Medicine: The Science Behind 10 Alternative Therapies (greatist.com)
Oil pulling for maintaining oral hygiene – A review – ScienceDirect