You may have heard these terms used interchangeably: conventional medicine, allopathic medicine, and Western medicine. All of these terms refer to the treatment of symptoms and disease through options such as medication, surgery, and radiation.
A shift in healthcare approaches
Conventional medicine has carried the day in the U.S. for a long time, but things are starting to shift. Many Americans—and their doctors—are dissatisfied with certain aspects of this type of medical treatment.
This shift away from conventional medicine is triggered by a number of factors, including:
- Concern that “a pill for every ill” is not always effective and can lead to side effects that outweigh the benefits of medications
- The U.S. opioid epidemic, which cast a bright light on the dangers of prescription painkillers
- The realization that diet and lifestyle choices have a major impact on health
- Massive increases in diseases such as diabetes that suggest current treatment approaches are not working
- Dissatisfaction with the limited amount of time that medical doctors tend to spend with patients
Diabetes on the Rise
In 1958, 1.6 million U.S. residents had diagnosed diabetes (less than 1 percent of the population). By 2015, that number increased to 23.4 million, representing 7.5 percent of the population. If diabetes continues on its current course, it’s expected to increase by more than 50% by 2030, resulting in nearly 55 million Americans having the disease. (Source: Centers for Disease Control)
According to the National Institutes of Health, roughly one out of every three Americans is turning to alternative medicine rather than conventional medicine to address their health care ills. Medical schools are responding to this demand. Studies show that half of U.S. medical schools offer at least one course in complementary and alternative medicine, to include acupuncture, spirituality, and herbs.
Defining the Terms
Just as there are different terms used to describe conventional medicine, there are also a number of terms that define alternatives approaches. Here’s a closer look at these terms:
Alternative medicine — non-mainstream approaches that are used in place of conventional medicine
Complementary medicine—non-mainstream approaches that are used in addition to conventional medicine
Integrative health care — a coordinated use of both conventional and complementary approaches that focuses on all aspects of the patient’s well-being (holistic)
Homeopathy or natural medicine — like integrative healthcare, this type of medicine is holistic in nature and works with your body’s natural systems to help it restore itself. Homeopathic medicines, or remedies, are made from natural sources.
Here’s a look at non-conventional approaches to medicine that have gained in popularity in recent years.
Probiotics are “good germs”—live bacteria and yeasts that keep your gut healthy. Many practitioners recommend them for help with digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function. People have found them to be helpful with ills such as irritable bowel syndrome that have stymied conventional medicine.
Scientists are learning more about the gut-brain connection. It’s a two-way street, with poor gut health causing mental health issues (anxiety, stress, depression, etc.) and mental health issues causing poor gut health. Probiotics are being used to address both sides of this spectrum.
As people are becoming more disillusioned with prescription painkillers that can lead to addiction, they are turning to alternative pain management therapies such as acupuncture. This therapy involves penetrating a person’s skin with thin needles. The needles are inserted into strategic places on the body in varying depths in order to stimulate energy flow and relieve pain.
3) Sublingual Immunotherapy for Allergies
There has been an increase in allergies to food and environmental triggers (pollen, mold, etc.) Where food allergies are concerned, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked a 50 percent increase in food allergies in children between 1997 and 2011. Food allergies now affect an average of two kids per school classroom.
Environmental allergies are also an ever-expanding problem, with factors like global warming being blamed for lengthening the pollination season for problematic allergens such as ragweed. Allergy-related ills such as asthma and eczema are on the rise.
There are some notable challenges with conventional medicine in the field of allergy treatment. Where food allergy is concerned, there is no good treatment. Doctors simply tell patients to avoid problematic foods. Where environmental allergies are concerned, doctors often prescribe medications to treat the symptoms—including antihistamines and decongestants—but those are often only partially effective and they have been linked to serious side effects. For example, anticholinergic drugs like Benadryl have been linked to dementia.
Patients are looking toward immunotherapy to address their allergy problems. This treatment relies on substances found in nature and has minimal side effects. While subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots) has been around for a long time, more and more people are gravitating toward sublingual immunotherapy or SLIT (under-the-tongue allergy drops).
SLIT works like allergy shots, desensitizing the body to allergens in the environment, but it can be dispensed without needles (just a few drops under the tongue each day). And perhaps best of all, it is safer than shots so it can be dosed at home, negating the need for multiple trips to the doctor’s office for shots each week.
Sublingual immunotherapy works well for environmental and food allergies. Its success as a natural food allergy treatment is particularly exciting in a field where, in spite of the high demand for help, the only “treatment” option has been avoidance.
4) Dietary Supplements
The Council for Responsible Nutrition reports that the use of dietary supplements is at an all time high. For many people, they present a natural way to address their health problems without the side effects of prescription medications. Melatonin is particularly popular for improving mood and sleep cycle regulation. Fish oil is also among the most popular supplements, thanks to studies that have linked it to a decrease in the risk of heart disease.
5) Behavioral Modification
As insurance companies grapple with skyrocketing diabetes and heart disease, they are becoming increasingly more willing to pay for prevention programs that focus on changing behaviors that lead to these diseases. Some insurance companies will give beneficiaries a stipend toward a gym membership. Others offer disease prevention programs that offer access to a behavior coach, a personal trainer, a nutritionist, and an ongoing support group to offer motivation and guidance.
At AllergyEasy, we support integrative health care that focuses on all aspects of your health and are proud to offer a natural approach to treating your allergies.