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Understanding Unconventional Medicine

Medicine is more “open minded” than it used to be. While many health care providers once snickered at the idea of using yoga or herbs to heal the body, many have warmed to the idea. Complementary and alternative medicine isn’t so out of the ordinary anymore.

Growing Popularity

In the U.S., more than 30 percent of adults and about 12 percent of children use some type of complementary or alternative medicine. Some of the most common therapies include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and massage.         

Complementary and alternative medicine includes a wide range of practices outside of conventional medicine. When used instead of traditional treatments, these therapies are alternative. More often, however, these treatments are used along with conventional medicine. In this case, they are called complementary.

Some Common Treatments

Mind-body medicine: This approach focuses on how the brain can affect health. Hypnosis, meditation, yoga, and biofeedback are some examples. They are often used to help ease pain and reduce stress.       

Dietary supplements and herbs: Interest in natural products is booming. Widely marketed and available to consumers, some examples include zinc lozenges for colds, St. John’s Wort for depression, and ginkgo to ward off dementia. However, the research on these and other natural products is limited or conflicting.   

Energy therapy: Also called energy healing, this type of therapy is based on the idea that a vital energy flows through the human body. Treatments aim to bring energies back in balance to help reduce stress and anxiety, as well as promote well-being. Although controversial, they are being studied by scientists. Examples include magnet therapy and Reiki.

Manipulative and body-based practice: For this approach, the therapist moves or manipulates one of more parts of the patient’s body. Chiropractic treatments, physical therapy, and massage therapy are all examples. These treatments may be used for pain, stress, anxiety, and depression.      

Whole medical systems: Built on health theories and practices, whole medical systems evolved separately from—and earlier than—conventional medical approaches used in the U.S. Examples include homeopathy, naturopathy, Traditional Chinese medicine, and Ayurvedic medicine.

If You Want to Try It

Scientific evidence now exists supporting the safety and effectiveness of certain complementary health approaches. However, there are still numerous unanswered questions about whether other approaches are safe and if they actually work as intended.

Before you try any type of therapy, check with your provider. Ask about the potential risks and benefits. Although there are many options, not every one may be safe or right for you.