What is Alternative, Complementary, and Integrative Health?

Alternative Health Care

Alternative health care is the term given to medical therapies that are used instead of the traditional (modern western) treatments. An example of this is when special diets or other alternative therapies are used instead of the conventional proven treatment for cancer such as surgery or chemotherapy.

These alternative health care practices are not usually recognized by the medical profession as conventional medical methods. Some alternative medicine includes herbal teas, dietary preparations, massage therapy, spiritual healing, acupuncture and aromatherapy.

Complementary Health Care

This describes the practice of combining traditional health care methods together with an alternative health care therapy. For example, acupuncture is often used for patients suffering side effects caused by the traditional treatments for cancer, or aromatherapy being used to decrease patient discomfort after a medical procedure.

Categories of Complementary Health

Complementary and alternative health care consist of five main categories.

1) Alternative medical systems

These are complete systems built around theory and practice that evolved earlier than conventional medicine. These include homeopathic, naturopathic, traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.

2) Mind-body interventions

This therapy uses techniques that are said to enhance the minds ability to have a positive influence on the body’s function and symptoms. These include hypnotherapy, meditation and biofeedback.

3) Biologically based therapies

These are therapies that use natural substances such as herbs antioxidants and dietary supplements. One of the most commonly used natural products is fish oil.

4) Manipulative body-based systems

These methods are based on manipulation or movement of parts of the body. These include the practices of chiropractic manipulation, reflexology, osteopathic and Therapeutic massage.

5) Energy Therapies

These therapies involve energy fields that are believed to surround and penetrate the human body. Examples of these treatments include therapeutic touch, qi gong, music therapy and reiki.

Integrative Medical Treatment

Integrative is the term used when conventional and complementary approaches to health care are brought together in a coordinated way. The use of integrative therapy methods is increasing within health care facilities. It combines the best of both types of medical care.

The providers of integrative medicine encourage shared decision making between themselves and their patients regarding particular treatments.

Integrative health care treatments accentuate a patient-focused, almost holistic approach to wellness. This method treats the whole person by treating the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of a patient.

When health care is integrative it is unique because it aims for well-coordinated care between diverse providers and institutions. All care relating to the patient is shared between team members and it establishes a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the physical the psychological and the social needs of the patient.

Large studies have been conducted on integrative medicine and some have been found to be a useful boost to conventional medicine, especially in the cancer clinics that are integrative medical facilities.

Some of the natural therapies studied and used in the treatment of cancer and in these facilities include acupuncture, aromatherapy, meditation, therapeutic massage and biofeedback.

However, researchers agree that much more needs to be known about the effects these products or applications have on the body. Their concerns usually relate to the safety and potential interactions when combined with pharmaceutical medicines.

The development and use of natural products and therapies has been in use for thousands of years. However their use decreased with the discovery of penicillin last century. The main killers at this time in our history were infectious disease. Antibiotics proved to be the miracle treatment and eliminator of many infectious diseases.

It is only in the last few decades that alternative medicine has become popular again. The proven adverse side effects of many of the pharmaceutical drugs that are used in traditional medicine are adding to their popularity.
Safety and Regulation

The main problem with acceptance of alternative complementary medicine is the unknown or untested, at least by accepted testing methodologies. Some of these products, in spite of being natural, can also have a negative reaction on the body and our health.

The fact that more and more scientific research is being carried out on the combination of complementary and traditional medicine can only lead to a more preventive and healing health system.

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