Think alternative approaches to medicine like acupuncture and herbalism are the domain of hippies and beatniks? Think again! While these therapies were once thought of as fringe, they are now embraced by large numbers of Americans.
According to research released through the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one third of U.S. adults use some form of non-conventional medicine.
These different approaches to medicine are commonly referred to as complementary or alternative medicine (CAM), with complementary medicine being used in addition to conventional medicine and alternative medicine being used in place of conventional medicine.
CAM may include:
- Chiropractic care
- Massage therapy
- Energy therapies (reflexology, reiki, etc.)
- Vitamins and herbal supplements
- Diet-based therapies
- Hypnotherapy/guided relaxation
- Tai chi
These practices are being incorporated at some of the most venerable mainstream medical institutions in the country as people broaden their definition of healthcare. In fact, a study published in 2015 surveyed 130 medical schools and found that half offered at least one CAM course or clerkship in subjects like acupuncture, herbs, and spirituality. Additionally, enrollment is up at accredited naturopathic schools of medicine across the country.
So why are these types of medicine once thought of as “out there” now entering the mainstream? Here are a few contributing factors.
People want more time with their provider. A 2018 Medscape Physician Compensation Report shows that doctors spend just 13 to 24 minutes with each patient. Research suggests that an increase in paperwork, largely due to a labyrinth of insurance requirements, is at least in part responsible for this.
CAM providers often report spending 30 minutes to an hour with patients. As a result, people who favor a deeper relationship with the person helping them make major decisions about their well-being often branch out to CAM providers.
People want a more holistic approach to their health. Conventional practitioners are often looking at one body system. Bring in another system and that patient will need a referral to another practitioner, which can lead to fragmented, myopic healthcare.
I saw this frequently in my private allergy practice. Patients with hives or eczema would go to a dermatologist, who would treat the skin problem with one topical cream after another, but the overarching problem of allergy would be completely overlooked. By examining all of the body systems together, a provider can look more to root causes instead of just symptoms.
Another example is doctors prescribing medicine for pain management. This may be an important part of the equation, but things like yoga may help reduce physical stresses that could be causing the underlying pain.
Some medical “cures” have proven worse than the disease. Consider the patient whose back surgery left her with more pain and less mobility than she had pre-procedure. Or the patient taking anti-cholinergic drugs for asthma only to find out that they are linked to dementia.
While conventional medicine has many answers, it doesn’t hold all of them. People who have become disillusioned by shortcomings in conventional medicine have become more willing to explore solutions in CAM.
Also, many CAM therapies have the advantage of presenting few to no side effects. For example, why not try meditation for depression before starting on medication? Can’t hurt, might help!
Where allergy treatment is concerned, we always recommend sublingual immunotherapy. Many of our patients have tried a litany of allergy medications. If they work, they often come with side effects, and once patients stop the medications, the symptoms return. We love presenting patients with a naturopathic allergy treatment that is free of side effects and changes the underlying immune response (not just its symptoms) for lasting relief from allergies.
CAM success stories. While CAM doesn’t have all of the answers, it can be very effective as a complement or alternative to traditional medicine. As stories of its positive track record have circulated—particularly with the advent of the internet and social media—they have broken down negative stereotypes and made people more willing to try out different approaches to medicine.
If your co-worker posts on Facebook how therapeutic massage has relieved his chronic head pain or if your friend’s blog discusses how dietary supplements have helped improve her long-standing depression, you’ll likely sit up and take notice.
While some CAM therapies are not yet backed by a robust body of research, others are, and more studies are in the works to provide empirical evidence supporting these therapies.
Before you consider a CAM therapy—and especially before you consider one as a replacement for conventional medicine—here are some questions to consider:
- What is the goal of this therapy?
- Is there research confirming the efficacy of this treatment? How much and who was it conducted by?
- Does this therapy complement or replace conventional medicine therapies?
- If I try this therapy instead of a conventional one, could it delay my conventional treatment in a way that could potentially cause harm?
- Does the practitioner offering this treatment have a trustworthy license or credentials?
- Are there side effects associated with this therapy?
- Could this therapy interfere with any of the medications I take?
At AllergyEasy, we believe that there is no one-size-fits-all path to health and healing. Do your research, check reviews, and be sure to talk to your primary care doctor before starting any CAM therapy.