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Alternative And Complimentary Medicine

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In the United States there are about 125 million people who suffer from a chronic illness of some kind. A chronic illness is a long-term condition for which there seems to be no cure such as arthritis, allergies, high blood pressure, digestive problems and back pain. People live with chronic illnesses for years and if conventional treatment is not effective, they will often try various non-orthodox treatments and therapies. Patients with terminal illnesses such as cancer and HIV-AIDS, once conventional medical treatment has failed them, also often turn to non-conventional therapies in a last desperate bid for a cure. These treatments are grouped under the name of Alternative Medicine when used instead of conventional medical treatment, for example when a special diet is used as a treatment for cancer instead of radiation or chemotherapy. They are called Complementary Medicine when used together with conventional medical treatment, for example when physical therapy is used to rehabilitate a patient after a stroke. Alternative medicine is also used in preventive health care, health maintenance or to enhance well being. Other terms for alternative medicine are unconventional medicine, non-conventional medicine, and unproven and irregular medicine.

Conventional medicine, also known as allopathic medicine, mainstream medicine, orthodox medicine, regular medicine and biomedicine is taught to medical students in medical schools throughout the world. It is based on science and clinical research and most treatments have scientific evidence of their effectiveness. The goal of clinical research is to prove that certain treatments and drugs are effective in curing the conditions they were developed to cure. Casual observation that something seems to work is not accepted as proof. There has to be research results that back it up. Through clinical trials many treatments that were thought to be effective have been proved to be useless. Therefore conventional medical practitioners generally discount any treatment that has no scientific data proving its effectiveness. However conventional medicine cannot treat or cure every illness. Medical knowledge has its limits and many doctors, after trying every treatment available are reduced to managing symptoms, admitting they cannot provide a cure. Most people agree that conventional medicine is best when treating trauma, injuries or emergencies, but more and more people are looking to alternative medicine to treat ailments that conventional medicine has not cured. On May 27, 2004 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a survey about alternative and complimentary medicines. They asked 31,000 U.S. adults about 27 different therapies including acupuncture, herbal remedies, vitamins, special diets and prayer. About 36 % of those surveyed said they had used one of more types of alternative therapies. When prayer was included as an alternative therapy the percentage increased to 62%. 19% of those surveyed used products such as herbs, 12% practice deep breathing, 8% meditate, 5% use therapeutic massage and 4% used diet-based therapies. Only 12 % went to licensed alternative therapists such as chiropractitioners. The people most likely to use alternative therapies were former smokers, people who had been in hospital during the past year, women and people with higher education. Alternative therapies were used most often for the treatment of joint and back pain, colds, neck pain and depression.

Alternative medicine is not popular with conventional medical practitioners. Most alternative methods have not been researched in clinical trials and so conventional medical practitioners and scientists do not believe them to be credible treatments, some believing that many are positively dangerous. However, people who are sick are desperate to get well and often will not accept the failures of conventional medicine as the final word. They turn to alternative treatments because these offer another approach to illness and the human body. There are a lot of unknowns about the mind-body connections and a lot of mysteries surrounding cures and treatments. Many alternative methods come from the East and are centuries old, they are natural and holistic, meaning they treat the whole body instead of just the symptoms, they involve the use of natural substances or human contact and they offer hope. On the other hand mainstream medicine is accused of being artificial and invasive. Drugs are harsh chemicals with many side effects and doctors treat patients as diseases. Many alternative therapies work for some people but not others, perhaps because of the placebo effect, but also perhaps because no two human bodies are the same. Some things are just inexplicable. However doctors' and scientists' main argument against alternative therapies is that even though alternative practitioners claim their therapies work none of them can produce "solid reproducible scientific research to back up their claims". The medical establishment may not think that all alternative therapies are without merit, but there is no "mechanism of systematically testing their value". It is scientifically untested medicine and claims that these therapies can restore or enhance mental, emotional, physical or spiritual health, balance one's "chakra" restore harmony to one's energy flow, or return the patient to his "center" are essentially non-testable.

Another criticism of alternative medicine is that, with certain exceptions, the practitioners are unregulated whereas physicians are regulated through licensing, referral, hospital oversight and constant reviews. Many Alternative therapists operate outside any regulations or control and can make claims about their treatments that do not have to be proved. Some Alternative practitioners however, such as chiropractitioners, osteopaths, and physical therapists are well trained and licensed and have to pass exams.

Alternative medicine has many different origins and philosophies, comes from many different cultures and involves many different practices. One web site ( )lists 88 different types of alternative medicine, another, ( )lists over two hundred. There are several established alternative therapies that have earned respectability because they are effective. Methods such as chiropractic, physical therapy, acupuncture and homeopathy are well researched, their practitioners are well trained and they have come to be widely accepted. However there are literally hundreds of other types of alternative treatments such as Carnivora Therapy, Energized Water, Hug Therapy, Color Therapy, Crystal Healing, Cranial Facial Balancing, and Rolfing that, on the surface seem to be a bit bizarre and are less mainstream.



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