Alternative medicine is a method of health care different from those that people are used to receive from a physician or local emergency clinic. It includes such therapies as herbal, acupuncture, hypnosis, and various diets in order to treat people or maintain their physical and mental health. Complementary and alternative medicine have proven to be efficient for many patients, but it also has drawbacks and, in some cases, hazards. This paper attempts to provide information on the field of alternative medicine, its advantages and disadvantages.
The term "alternative medicine" in the United States initially refers to an additional treatment to (not a replacement for) traditional medical care. The term "alternative medicine" is used interchangeably with "complementary medicine," which is a more precise functional description of this social phenomenon. Most of types of treatment that are included in complementary and alternative medicine in the US are, in fact, time-honored traditional medical practices used in other countries and cultures or periods in Europe and America (Micozzi).
Complementary and alternative medicine include, for example, the traditional Chinese medicine, various types of manual therapies (massage, osteopathy, chiropractic), and homeopathy. A great amount of time-honored treatments shares many features, such as focus on mind-body medicine, attention to nutrition and natural products, and importance of personal interaction between physician and patient. Micozzi distinguish five typical areas of interest to complementary and alternative medicine: a wellness orientation, a faith in self-healing, (3) a belief that bioenergetic therapy is efficient, laying an emphasis the use of nutrition and natural products, and a focus on individuality.
However, Fontanarosa and Lundberg claim that there are no such things as conventional or alternative medicine. Instead, there is scientifically proven, evidence-based medical care which is based on solid data and unproven medical care, which lacks scientific evidence (1618). The lack of research in complementary and alternative medicine is that intensive and detailed medical studies are expensive. Test for conventional treatments are frequently funded by big corporations that produce and sell medication. There is a small number of resources that can support test for complementary and alternative treatments (Mayo Clinic Staff 2).
Why People Use Alternative Medicine
In general, people who give preference to complementary and alternative medicine are looking for ways to improve their health or to reduce symptoms related to chronic or terminal diseases, or the side effects of traditional treatments (Barnes and Bloom 2-4). Patients may also choose to use complementary and alternative medicine due to a holistic health philosophy that provides them with "transformational experience that changes their world view and granting greater control over their own health and lives" (Barnes and Bloom 7). Numerous practitioners of alternative medicine try to treat not only the physical and biochemical symptoms of a disease, but also the emotional, social, and spiritual aspects in which the disease manifest itself. Barnes and Bloom argue that the prevailing number of patients that use complementary and alternative medicine do as an addition to conventional care rather than its alternative (Barnes and Bloom 8).
Many people choose alternative medical treatments due to their centuries-old traditions. Before modern hospitals, doctors, and drugs people have been using nature and folk traditions in order to stay healthy and to heal diseases. Ancient healers used herbs, shrubs, and tree bark to take care of wounds, pain, and symptoms of illnesses. Three thousand years ago healers in China began using acupuncture. Shamans in Asia, Africa, and the Americas detected diseases by the people"s behavior, the color of their tongue, the beating of their heart, and their dreams. Such approaches may seem very odd in the contemporary age of gene therapy and fast-paced first-aid stations. However, the practices of ancient cultures are still used today in some of the forms. Millions of people around the globe turn to herbal medicine, acupuncture, and other ancient therapies (Billitteri 14).
Over the past few years, an increasing number of American patients have been choosing some of these ancient remedies with a long history to supplement or replace conventional medicine. Alternative forms of medical treatment adopt new controversial approaches, such as magnetic-field therapy, that are not recognized by the medical community (Billitteri 15-16).
The majority of people who use alternative medicine do so not because they are dissatisfied with modern types of medicine but rather because they find these medical alternatives to be more harmonizing with their own values, beliefs, and viewpoints toward life and health (Astin 1548).
Most alternative therapies exclude the use of drugs and surgery. Therefore, patients that experience fear of surgery or the side effects of medications can find complementary and alternative medicine more attractive. Furthermore, some people may be concerned with a significant number of cases of scientific medicine harming patients. In contrast, alternative treatments are usually associated with less risky and less probable to cause direct harm (Carrol).
Complementary and alternative medicine often uses "natural" products for the remedies. Many people consider that natural products are supposed to be better and safer than artificial ones (such as drugs). However, one has to keep in mind that being natural does not prove to be good, safe, or healthy. There are many natural things that are unsafe and harmful (Carrol).
One if the main reasons people turn to alternative medical care is that it is often cheaper than conventional medicine. However, Carrol assumes that "alternative" therapies are not truly alternatives, because, in that case, it would not make sense to pay more for the treatment of the same quality. Therefore, not all complementary and alternative approaches are equally effective as traditional ones.
Why Physicians Are Advocating Against the Use of Alternative Medicine.
Many physicians and researchers are highly skeptical about alternative medicine. From the perspective of conventional medicine, alternative medical treatment is unproven and thus puts the health and lives of the patients at risk. Even supporters of alternative approaches admit that conventional medicine can be best in some cases (Billitteri 19).
Many therapies used in alternative medicine are unregulated, and this can pose a threat. In pharmacies or grocery stores, there are numerous herbal remedies for treating any kind of illness. However, common customers do not care much about dosage which is safe, or side effects of a herb or vitamin supplement. In addition, little attention is paid to possible effects of combining herbal remedies with prescription medications (Billitteri 19).
Billitteri states that so many alternative treatments emerged the market since the early 1990s that researchers and consumer watchdogs have not been able to test them all. Therefore, "caveat emptor" might be the best guide for the current situation in alternative medicine. Businesses can sell herbal supplements, for example, without being required to prove that they are effective, as long as they provide signs on the packages that do not suggest that a remedy prevents, treats, or heals an illness (Billitteri 19).
Alternative ways of treatment are much more informal and unrestricted than traditional medicine. While some practitioners may have received rigorous training in their field, others may lack any professional credentials (Billitteri 17).
In addition, O'Mathúna and Larimore argue that when people are desperate, they tend to ignore any objective evaluation of alternative remedies (88). Under such circumstances, they may fall victims to frauds, impostors, or those practitioners who truly believe in what is truly wrong (O'Mathúna and Larimore 88).
According to John Astin, less than 5% of the population relies primarily on alternative medicine (1553).Unlike those who use alternative health care in combination with or as an addition to conventional forms of medical treatment, these patients were more likely to be disappointed with standard treatment as well as to show a desire to maintain exclusive control over their health care decisions.
Both conventional and alternative medical approaches may be risky. Therefore, the best way to assess the efficiency of complementary and alternative medicine is to study enough about individual treatments. Physicians should become more aware of alternative medical treatments and extend their knowledge concerning the possible benefits and limitations of unconventional therapies. Thus, physicians will be able to and advise their patients appropriately and help them have access to greater amount of useful sources of information.
Astin, John A. "Why Patients Use Alternative Medicine: Results of a National Study." The Journal of the American Medical Association 279.19 (1998): 1548-53. Web.
Barnes, Patricia M., and Barbara Bloom. "Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults and Children: United States, 2007." National Health Statistics Reports 12 (2008): 1-24. Web.
Billitteri, Thomas J. Alternative Medicine. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2001. Print.
Carroll, Robert T. ""Alternative" Health Practices." The Skeptic Dictionary. N.P., 18 Feb. 2014. Web.
Fontanarosa, Phil B., and George D. Lundberg. "Alternative Medicine Meets Science." The Journal of the American Medical Association 280.18 (1998): 1618-19. Web.
Mayo Clinic Staff. "Complementary and Alternative Medicine." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 20 Oct. 2011. Web.
Micozzi, Marc S. Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Amsterdam: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2010. Print.
O'Mathúna, Dónal, and Walter L. Larimore. Alternative Medicine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006. Print.