I'd like to share some information today regarding some alternative options that are available. This information is not meant to take the place of direct medical care but to provide some information on options that you may wish to speak to your doctor about. If you're curious to try some these options please start the conversation with your doctor and/or treatment team.
The field of complementary and alternative medicine is known as CAM.
CAM tries to prevent and treat different conditions with techniques such as:
- Healing touch
- Herbal medicines
There is research to show that some CAM techniques can help with problems like pain and nausea. But other alternative therapies don't have enough medical evidence to determine if they are effective.
Before you try CAM, read this overview. Learn which treatments might actually help you feel better -- and which ones may not be worth the money.
What it is: This traditional Chinese medicine technique uses thin needles to stimulate various points around the body. Each point corresponds to a specific condition. The aim of acupuncture is to restore a balance of energy and good health to the body.
The evidence: More study needs to be done into the benefits of acupuncture. However, evidence suggests that acupuncture holds promise for relieving vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy. It also may help ease some chronic pain conditions, including:
- Low back pain
- Osteoarthritis of the knee
What it is: Chiropractors specialize in adjustments -- manipulating the spine to put the body into better alignment. People typically visit the chiropractor when they have pain in their lower back, shoulders, and neck. But many chiropractors claim adjustments can also improve overall health.
The evidence: Chiropractic medicine does seem to provide some relief for lower back pain. But it may not be any better than other back pain treatments.
Studies have also found the technique effective for:
- Migraine and neck-related headaches
- Neck pain
- Joint conditions
But there isn't much data on the effectiveness of chiropractic medicine for some general medical conditions. For example, there's no solid evidence that it can treat asthma, high blood pressure, menstrual pain, or fibromyalgia.
Energy therapies use magnets and therapeutic touch to manipulate the body's energy fields and improve health.
Here's a round-up of some common energy therapies:
Magnetic Field Therapy
What it is: Magnets are thought by some to have healing abilities. Centuries ago, people believed magnets could treat everything from gout to baldness. Today, they're worn inside bracelets, shoes, and other accessories.
The evidence: There's no conclusive evidence that magnets are effective pain relievers.
A small study has shown that a magnet therapy called transcranial magnetic stimulation may aid recovery in certain stroke survivors. The results are preliminary. More study is needed to see if the therapy is effective. Repetitive TMS (rTMS) also is a nonexperimental, FDA-approved treatment for major depression.
Magnets are generally safe. But they can disrupt the function of pacemakers, defibrillators, and insulin pumps. That makes them potentially dangerous for anyone who uses these devices.
What it is: The premise of Reiki is that it accesses the body's natural energy to speed healing. The practitioner hovers his or her hands over the patient's body. Or he or she places them lightly on the person's skin.
The evidence: There is something to be said for the healing touch when it comes to bringing about a state of calm. One study checked the effect of Reiki on people hospitalized with heart disease. It showed that Reiki was effective in bringing about an increase in:
- Feeling of calm
Therapeutic Touch What it is: Advocates of this technique suggest that the power of touch may direct energy flow and treat pain and disease.
The evidence: It's hard to tell for sure whether therapeutic touch works. There have been few good studies done on this technique. Researchers have investigated its effects on wound healing, pain, and anxiety. Studies into its effectiveness have not been conclusive.
Plants form the foundation of herbal medicine. They're taken in several forms, including pills, powders, or extracts to treat a variety of conditions. Herbal medicine can be divided into three types:
What it is: Ayurvedic medicine originated in India more than 2,000 years ago. It focuses on balance of the mind, body, and spirit. Hundreds of different herbs are used to:
- Protect the body against disease
- Relieve pain
- Improve general health
The evidence: Most studies performed have been small. They cannot provide conclusive evidence that Ayurvedic herbal medicine works.
There's also a serious caution to using Ayurvedic products. One study found that Ayurvedic herbal medicines from South Asia had dangerously high levels of:
What it is: Chinese herbal medicines include gingko and ginseng. They are not used to treat a specific symptom or disease. Instead they are meant to restore balance to the body as a whole. These medicines can be taken in many forms, including pills, powders, and teas.
The evidence: Chinese herbal remedies have been studied for treating conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. But the research hasn't been well-designed enough to draw any conclusions on effectiveness.
Regarding safety, there have been reports of heavy metals and other toxins in certain Chinese herbal remedies.
A number of different herbs are grown right here in the U.S. or in Europe that are considered "Western" or "traditional" herbal remedies. Most studies on these herbs have been small. So it's hard to know for sure whether they work. A few herbs that have shown possible benefit include:
- Chamomile for relieving stomach upset
- Cranberry for preventing urinary tract infections
- Flaxseed, garlic, and soy for lowering cholesterol
- Peppermint oil for preventing heartburn
- St. John's wort for relieving mild to moderate depression
Although herbal remedies are considered "natural," they can cause side effects. They may also interact with drugs you're taking for other conditions. Talk to your doctor before taking any herbal medicine.
WebMD Medical Reference
Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on December 13, 2013
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