Despite dramatic advances in medical science and evidence-based practice, many people turn to other healing approaches, some derived from ancient medical traditions and others from new-age concepts.
Although extraordinarily diverse in their nature and purpose, these approaches share enormous appeal, often despite the lack of compelling evidence that they are safe or effective.
The term alternative medicine is used to indicate practices that are used instead of mainstream approaches, whereas complementary medicine refers to practices that are used as adjuncts to conventional medicine.
The most recent term for these approaches, integrative medicine, signals the hope that conventional medicine can embrace any modality that proves to be safe and effective, regardless of its origins, under a more inclusive health care umbrella.
[...] MIND-BODY INTERVENTIONS Complementary and alternative medicine is based on the premise that the mind influences bodily functions, and vice versa, and that the interactions between them can be affected for salutary purposes. This belief is a remarkably ancient and strikingly modern concept that conflicts with the cartesian dissociation of mind from body that dominated Western philosophical thought for more than 300 years. MIND-BODY INTERVENTIONS Some uses for hypnosis, cognitive therapies, and biofeedback are well integrated within conventional medicine. Other approaches involving meditation; dance, music, and art therapy; and prayer are considered complementary or alternative. [...]
[...] Appeal and Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Widely cited estimates suggest that 42% of Americans employ complementary and alternative medicine therapies to help satisfy their personal health care needs. The appeal is sufficient for Americans to spend billions of dollars on these therapies annually without any prospect of reimbursement from insurance companies. Appeal and Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Surveys indicate that patients choose complementary and alternative medicine approaches to sustain or restore their health and well-being, primarily to relieve symptoms of chronic or terminal illnesses that are not addressed adequately by conventional medical treatments. [...]
[...] Risks A major concern regarding complementary and alternative medicine approaches is that an individual might choose them instead of mainstream practices that are known to be effective. Because few patients inform physicians about their consumption of dietary supplements and few physicians inquire about them, potential problems emerge in many clinical settings. Patients who consume medicinal herbs known to interfere with coagulation may be at increased risk of hemorrhage after surgery. Risks With the increased awareness of the use and potential hazards of complementary and alternative medicine, more practitioners and institutions have begun to incorporate relevant questions into routine patient interactions. [...]
[...] Acceptable Approaches In considering complementary and alternative medicine approaches, patients and physicians must look to practices that at least make sense based on clinical experience and what might be known of their mechanisms of action. Healthy skepticism must be balanced with thoughtful empiricism. Two categories of potentially acceptable complementary and alternative therapies exist: supportive approaches and specific therapies. SUPPORTIVE APPROACHES Many complementary and alternative medicine practices are based on core elements that always have been a part of good medicine, what is known as "the three Ts"—talk, touch, and time. [...]
[...] When published case series and pilot trials suggest that the product might be beneficial and there is little to indicate it is unsafe, the physician might be comfortable with the patient's wish to use it, especially if the patient is not neglecting more important health issues and proven effective therapies, if the patient can afford it, and if the complementary and alternative medicine seems to help and not cause side effects. SPECIFIC THERAPIES Valerian is an herb often consumed as a tea for improved sleep. [...]
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