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Americans are increasingly looking for ways to improve their health and well-being.If you’re like others, you may consider your mental and spiritual health to be equally as important as your physical health. Alternative medicine—or nontraditional health care—may meet your needs by caring for both the physical and spiritual aspects of your life.
What is alternative medicine?
Alternative medicine is a holistic or whole mind/body approach to health care that complements, rather than competes with, conventional medicine. When diagnosing and treating a patient, an alternative medicine practitioner considers not only the patient’s physical health, but his or her mental and spiritual condition as well. Many different alternative treatments exist, including some that are becoming accepted by practitioners of traditional medicine:
- Acupuncture, which is commonly used for pain relief
- Herbal medicine, including agrimony, which can be used for swelling, indigestion, or muscle tension relief
- Chiropractic techniques—the manipulation and adjustment of the spine and other joints—which are used to relieve pain and associated problems
- Mind/body techniques such as relaxation, visualisation, talk therapy, hypnotherapy, yoga, and meditation
Should you use alternative medicine?
People who use alternative medicine often believe that good health is not just the absence of disease—it also means being physically, mentally, and spiritually fit. You may decide to use alternative medicine if you believe that:
- It’s important to use the best or most promising treatment available, whether conventional or not
- The conventional medicine you are using has been unsatisfactory
- Since no two people are the same—i.e. one person may respond differently to a medication or a treatment than another—a single approach may not work
- Common antibiotics or other prescription drugs may have unknown long-term side effects
- Many of the major causes of disease, including stroke and heart disease, might be prevented or reduced through simple lifestyle changes that include diet, exercise, and stress reduction
- Preventing the cause is better than treating the symptom
- Meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and tai chi can promote physical, mental, and spiritual health
What is the difference between conventional and alternative medicine?
Conventional and alternative medicines share the same goal—they seek to cure patients. However, they go about treating the patient’s symptoms differently. Alternative medicine will often stimulate the body’s natural recuperative powers—the immune system—to assist in the healing process. Alternative medicine is more apt to treat with natural substances such as zinc.
Conventional medicine often uses medications that have an immediate impact on the patient’s symptoms. These are often manufactured drugs containing synthetic chemicals. The side effects of these medications can be more severe than those of alternative medications.
Alternative medicine often works best when combined with conventional medicine. In some cases, you may have little choice—although alternative medicine may work well over time, your condition may require immediate treatment, and more conventional methods of medicine may be your only option.
Is alternative medicine really safe?
Although it may seem like alternative medicine is a recent development, it has actually been around for longer than conventional medicine. Many of the medications and practices considered nontraditional today have their roots in traditional African, American, Asian, and European medicine. Because of their widespread popularity overseas, some alternative medications used in the United States may have already been tested abroad.
Many alternative medicines—and many alternative treatments—don’t receive official approval from the Food and Drug administration or conventional medical community because their effects are hard to quantify. Conversely, these same medications and treatments are usually not as dangerous or invasive as more conventional treatments.
Here are some commonsense ways to make using alternative medicine safer:
- Look for a practitioner who is licensed by the state or by a recognised medical association. If the practitioner is licensed, the licensing board will provide you with information about his or her education, training, and background (including disciplinary background).
- Choose a practitioner who uses several alternative therapies or who is trained in both conventional and alternative medicine. The practitioner should listen to you and be sensitive to your needs. You should be able to communicate comfortably and develop a good working relationship.
- After you have chosen a practitioner, ask him or her about the safety and effectiveness of the proposed treatment and mention any therapies and treatment you are already receiving
- Buy medications from reputable sources, and pay attention to the active and inactive ingredients, dosage instructions, and drug interactions listed on the label
Will health insurance cover alternative medicine?
Some health plans offer coverage for alternative therapies, such as chiropractic care and massage therapy, but not for alternative medications—these are treated like traditional medications sold over-the-counter. However, many insurers are recognising that the demand for alternative medications exists and are helping customers learn more by providing information about them. You may even be able to buy alternative medications through your insurer at a discount.
Tips for using alternative medicine
- Avoid treating yourself—seek the advice of a physician
- To find a practitioner of alternative medicine, talk to your current doctor. Your insurer may also be able to provide you with a referral.
- Always do your homework before trying out alternative medicine. Libraries, bookstores, health food stores, and the Internet are good places to start. Your physician or insurer may also be able to provide you with information.
- Continue to gather information even after you have selected an alternative practitioner and/or alternative treatment—this will help you practice the treatment and monitor its effectiveness
If you’re interested in finding out which health insurance companies support alternative medicine, get a health insurance quote at our Health section. You can compare multiple quotes from top health insurance companies, which helps you find the insurance that’s right for your situation.
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