Alternative medicine refers to all therapies and methods of promoting physical and mental well being that are used in place of conventional or Western methods of health care. Often combined with complementary medicine and practices, alternative medicine is usually divided into three categories:
- Natural products
- Mind and body practices
- Manipulative or body-based therapies
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is used by approximately 38 percent of Americans, according to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) of 2007. Many of these practices overlap and may be used alongside more conventional methods; however, truly alternative medicine is used in its place.
Alternative medicine methods include various health care and medical systems that promote health, treat diseases and injuries, attend to conditions and disorders, and help to alleviate negative symptoms of other health-related issues. Various forms of alternative medicine exist. Some forms of alternative medicine require that the practitioners receive extensive education to practice, as with chiropractic medicine, while other forms require little formal training, such as yoga instruction.
One category of alternative medicine is natural products. Probiotics, dietary supplements, herbal medicines, and vitamins and minerals are included in this category. Probiotics are live organisms that exist in yogurt (and other products) that help to promote health, ward off disease and illness, and treat health issues, such as digestion problems. Probiotics may be found in foods or supplements that can be purchased at some pharmacies and health stores.
According to a study conducted in 2007, 17.7 percent of Americans use natural products to promote and regulate their health. The most popular natural products used for treatment of various disorders or symptoms (or prevention of them) include fish oil/omega 3 and echinacea. Natural products are thought to treat the body with a holistic approach that doesn’t contain artificial preservatives and ingredients that may contaminate one’s system.
Another division of alternative medicine includes treatment of the mind and body. This type of therapy promotes health and affects physical functioning through the interactions of the mind, brain, behavior, and body. Therapies that fit within this division include meditation, yoga, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, tai chi, and guided imagery. For instance, meditation helps to increase one’s level of calmness andability to deal with stress and cope with health issues by various posturing, focused attention, and attitude. Yoga also helps deal with life and health issues through breathing, relaxation, and posturing. Acupuncture alleviates pain and nausea, promotes health, and treats disease and symptoms through the manipulation of needles inserted into the body’s tissues and muscles.
The manipulative and body-based practices make up the third category of alternative medicine. This aspect of alternative medicine focuses on the structures and systems of the body to enhance health. The bones, joints, and tissues, along with the circulatory and lymphatic systems, are treated in order to heal injuries, resolve health issues, alleviate symptoms from chronic disorders, and help other health problems. Spinal manipulation is one therapy that falls into this division of alternative medicine. This is usually done by a chiropractor, osteopathic doctor, or physical therapist. Massage therapy is another form of alternative medicine that may be categorized as a manipulative and body-based practice. Massage therapy is the treatment of health issues through the rubbing and massage of tissues and joints.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) was developed by the U.S. government in order to define alternative medicines, determine the usefulness and effectiveness of the practices, and estimate the safety level of these alternative types of therapies. They also help to determine the various therapies’ roles in improving and maintaining general health and healthcare. Additionally, they aid consumers in staying informed about various therapies and set standards for practitioners who engage in the provision of these services. NCCAM is one of 27 centers that make up the National Institute of Health, regulated by the federal government and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The center has four major areas of focus: advancing scientific research, training complementary and alternative medicine researches, sharing news and information, and supporting integration of proven CAM theories.