A-Z of Alternative Medicine
The history of modern medicine is a history of trial and error, of those with a new idea taking first steps down new roads, often against intense criticism. In the early years of the Renaissance, those who sought to learn human anatomy risked condemnation by the church for dissecting corpses – often robbed from catacombs.
In more modern times, new treatments have often run an uphill fight for recognition, even though the conventional mindset has expanded greatly since the 1400’s. The X-ray machine could have been used to save President McKinley after he was shot in 1901 at the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition – but no one wanted to test it on a President. He died eight days later. New treatments have continued to have a hard time integrating themselves, chiefly because so much is invested in what is already standard – and because people are afraid of what is new. This is true even in alternative medicine, where much of the “new” has actually been with us for centuries.
The modern history of what has been called “alternative medicine” follows much the same path of “controversial” ideas conflicted with established orthodoxy. Though many of the tenets of alternative medicine have been used worldwide for hundreds if not thousands of years, they are only now starting to gain some grudging acceptance by mainstream medicine – and most traditional practitioners still prefer to keep them at arms length. And, although many alternative treatments are evidence-based, there are some which survive only on anecdotal support and the belief of those who practice them, leading many to regard all “natural” treatments with skepticism. Unfortunately, this deprives many patients of what could be viable treatment options. However, the potential benefit from alternative medical remedies and approaches cannot be ignored.
INDEX of Alternative Medicine
Atlas Orthogonal technique
Acupuncture is one of the oldest medical disciplines, having been around for over five thousand years since its origin in China. The basis for acupuncture is the belief that health is controlled by a balance of life energy, called chi or qi. According to acupuncture theory, there are twelve paths, or meridians, by which a person’s chi circulates, each connected to major organs and specific aspects of the body. However, in modern times this number has increased.
In the 1960s, Korean researchers found evidence of acupunctural theory using microdissection. They discovered an “independent series of fine ductlike tubes” that followed the traditionally observed meridian paths. These tubes were a separate system, connected to neither the lymphatic, nor the circulatory vessels of the body. Moreover though the fluid in these ducts sometimes flowed in the same direction as blood and lymph, its circulation varied. This was further corroborated by French research. Evidence also indicates these pathways may be related to the body’s electric currents.
As more accurate focus and technology is used to study what makes acupuncture work, the number of acupoints, or points at which the body’s chi can be balanced via the insertion of special needles, has grown – originally there were under 400. Now there are over one thousand identified acupoints.
Acupuncture is a proven solution for pain. But the World Health Organization has cited over 104 other different conditions which may benefit from acupunctural treatment (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p 37-40).
Since the 1970’s, there has been a growing interest in this centuries-old practice in the West. In 1983, the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAAOM) was created, making it the oldest professional American acupuncturist organization, in addition to the largest.
The British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS) was founded in 1980; it now has over 2300 members, and maintains a London Teaching Clinic at
Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (http://www.medical-acupuncture.co.uk/index.shtml).
The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (AAMA) was founded in 1987 to advance the acceptance of acupuncture into the Western medical mainstream. AAMA structures courses, seminars, and even publishes a journal (Planning your career in Alternative Medicine, Dianne J.B. Lyons, Avery Publishing Group, 1997, p346).
2: Alexander Technique:
This school of treatment is named after F. Matthias Alexander, of Tasmania. Generally speaking, it involves modifying one’s behavior to improve posture, involving a re-education of the patient about which movements and positions have a negative effect on the body. The majority of teachers of this technique are not actually medical doctors, but the process is widely taught in London and overseas (Alternative Medicine, A guide to natural therapies, Dr. Andrew Stanway, 1986 Chancellor Press, p42-43).
Apitherapy is the use of bee products and biology in the treatment of human illness and to promote health. According to www.apitherapy.com, there are hundreds of conditions that can benefit from this seemingly bizarre regimin, including cardiovascular illnesses such as acute rheumatic carditis, Angina pectoris, Arrhythmias, Artheritis obliterans, Artheriosclerosis, Atherosclerosis, Atherosclerotic Arteritis of the Inferior Limbs, Capillary fragility, Cardiac diseases (non-specific), Cerebral atherosclerosis, Cerebral Trombosis, Coronary Heart Diseases, Flebitis, Heart insufficiencies, Haemorrhagies of vascular origin, High Blood Pressure, Liver congestion, Peripheral Ischemic Degenerative Syndrome, Peripheral Vascular Diseases, Raynaud’s Disease, Slow peripheral blood flow, Varicose ulcer, and Varicosis.
The American Apitherapy Society (www.apitherapy.org) states: “No official body in the U.S. has sanctioned apitherapy as a recognized treatment modality,” noting that the use of bee venom has been approved by the federal government only for purposes of desensitizing those who have an allergic reaction to bee stings. Apitherapy, then, is regarded in the U.S. as, at best, an experimental approach.
4: Applied Kinesiology:
Applied Kinesiology is the discipline which examines the relationship between the muscles of the body, their condition, and an underlying disease or illness .
Applied kinesiology founder George Goodheart, D.C., developed his theory around the interrelations he observed between muscles and specific organ systems. According to this theory, if a muscle related to a particular organ is treated, it is possible to improve the condition of the organ. Asthma sufferers, for instance, need to take adrenal hormones. However, certain leg muscles share connections to the adrenal glands. Treating these muscles, if they are weakened, can help the adrenals function and possibly improve the asthma condition, minimizing the need for the taking of artificial adrenal substitutes.
Uses for this treatment include athletic injuries, damage to the lungs, and other organs (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p 47-52).
The term aromatherapy can be somewhat confusing. This discipline uses elemental oils extracted from herbs to treat conditions in a patient – but the oils work also by absorption through the skin, not solely aroma.
Although aromatherapy sees widespread utilization in France and Europe generally, in most other nations, where practiced, it is used primarily for stress relief and limited treatment of airborne infections (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p53-59). There is also use of this technique in wound healing, scar resorption, and other skin-related ailments through the topical application of aromatherapy oils (Alternative Medicine, A guide to natural therapies, Dr. Andrew Stanway, 1986 Chancellor Press, p57). Many of the oils used in aromatherapy share similarities to herbal treatments, at least in regards to their plant of origin. Some come from the same plants that are often used in herbal remedies, which is just one example of how several disciplines of alternative medicine can overlap.
Aromatherapy is soothing, which makes it also helpful for stress. But it can be used as well for common complaints with such as constipation, stomach upset, even hangovers (Aromatherapy, Remedies for Everyday Ailments, Fontana, 1992, Cathy Hopkins, p31).
6: Atlas Orthogonal technique (AO):
The atlas, or first cervical vertebrae, is the uppermost bone in the spine, and the first through which the spinal column passes. For years chiropractors have warned that misalignment in the spinal column can lead to other problems and that a healthy back was essential to overall general health. In fact, medical evidence for this was determined in 1921 – over eight decades ago [See Winsor]! However, it is only recently that the use of modern technology, new methods, and the creation of a new discipline within chiropractic – Atlas Orthogonal technique (AO or AOT) – has enabled many patients to eliminate one of the worst of such complaints, the chronic headache.
Chronic and reoccurring headaches – especially migraines – cost the nation over $8 billion annually, and headaches are the number one reason people miss days from work (NJ Monthly, January 2004, Marvels in Medicine, supplemental section). Many chronic and repeated headache sufferers end up prescribed pain medication that either doesn’t work or is so potent it makes them unable to work; still others grow frustrated with a barrage of MRIs and other imaging studies that don’t appear to show what the cause of their pain is. Most people assume they just have to “live with” their headaches – but not according to Dr. Ottavio Nepa, the foremost expert on AO technique. Dr. Nepa suffered from headaches himself, and had tried everything from acupuncture to prescription medication. But it wasn’t until being treated by Dr. Roy W. Sweat, developer of the Atlas Orthogonal technique, that Dr. Nepa gained relief.
The AO technique for treatment of the spine uses a machine to realign the atlas bone using precise vibrations. The painless treatment may be repeated several times but some patients even experience immediate relief. Many long-term headache sufferers are now headache free, and have been for years, thanks to AO treatment.
Dr. Nepa is a graduate with honors from Montclair State and board-certified chiropractor in New Jersey and Maryland. He is now the leading authority on AO treatment, at the Atlas Chiropractic Center in Little Falls, New Jersey.
AO technique is probably one of the most exciting medical developments in recent years. Its success stories of patients freed from chronic pain and debilitating medications show just how relevant to the medical profession “alternative medicine” can be.
7: Ayurvedic Medicine:
This is a discipline practiced for over 5,000 years in India. In Ayurvedic medicine, a doctor works to treat a patient based upon his dosha, or metabolic type. This, the ayurvedic physician is taught, can determine the tendencies and reactions a patient will have. Ayurvedic medicine, like western medicine, uses a patient’s pulse to get an overview of their health, but with ayurvedic medicine, the pulse is a much more specific indicator: The ayurvedic physician can determine twelve pulses, six on each wrist. While the western physician traditionally uses the pulse to determine bloodflow, the ayurvedic physician can determine the relative strength or specific organs and organ systems (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p63-69).
The types, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, represent not just body types but the lifestyle aspects of the individuals involved. Vata typifies those who are active, energetic, and who can cope with change; Pitta typifies those who are full of fire or energy, and are aggressive. Kapha typifies those who are slower, resistant to change and sometimes overweight. The principle focus of ayurvedic medicine is not disease but restoring a healthy balance.
To accomplish this end, ayurvedic practitioners have included a yoga regimen for thousands of years. They also employ herbal remedies. Although ayurvedic medicine has a small but loyal following in the states, it is growing in popularity. One of its leading spokespeople has been Dr. Deepak Chopra, an endocrinologist and former chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital in Stoneham, Massachusetts (The Best Alternative Medicine: What works, what doesn’t, Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, 2000 Simon & Schuster, p236).
8: Biofeedback training:
Biofeedback training is a technique in which a person is taught to control body functions normally perceived as involuntary, or beyond deliberate control.
The technique uses electronic monitoring devices, but once the devices are removed the patient remains capable of continuing to influence his or her vital functions. Heart rate, for instance, can be slowed. The technique requires discipline but has shown promise for treating a variety of concerns, including unhealthy heart rates, Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome, or TMJ, a serious condition of the jaw that often results from injury, and some affect has been observed on migraine headaches. Biofeedback can also be used with success from 54 to 95 percent of the time to treat incontinence in elderly, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services analysis of over 20 separate studies.
Biofeedback has been used with some success to treat Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in veterans, and shows promise in various circulatory issues (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p73-77, Alternate Medicine: What works, Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, 1996, Publisher’s Group west, p41-43).
9: Biological Dentistry:
This is a variation of modern dentistry which also incorporates techniques from other natural disciplines, such as Applied Kinesiology, in its diagnosis. The basic principle of biological dentistry is that good oral hygiene is essential for good overall health, and that problems in oral health will have an impact on one’s entire body. This general concept is actually shared by mainstream dentistry; recall recent information about gum disease being linking to wider concerns? Studies from the State University of New York have drawn a link between gum disease and heart attack, as well as stroke (Natural Ways to Digestive Health, Stephen Holt, MD, Wellness Publishing, 2000, p52).
However, biological dentistry and traditionally mainstream dentistry disagree often about what constitutes good oral hygiene. In biological dentistry, many dental practices that are still common in the U.S. are viewed as a source of pathogens for the body, as well as other, specific ailments.
Dental amalgams, for instance, have long been criticized even by some mainstream dentists due to their content of potentially dangerous metals. However, biological dentistry doesn’t just warn of their potential dangers – it advocates removing them from patients who already have them. Likewise with teeth that have undergone root canals; biological dentistry holds, with some justification, that pockets of infection can linger within them, and that no root canal is complication-free, although it only advocates removing the teeth themselves as a “last resort” method.
Biological dentistry also finds fault with fluoridated water, a common practice in the U.S., but one that has been phased out in other nations due to health concerns about its long-term impact. Fluoride is a compound containing Fluorine – hence its name. Fluorine is defined as “a pale, yellowish flammable irritating toxic gaseous” substance, certainly raising some question about whether we should be consuming it (The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Publishers, 1989, p.291).
In addition to its strident criticisms of dental practices involving alleged or potentially dangerous materials, biological dentistry has remained on the outskirts of modern mainstream treatment for other reasons, notably its use of other alternative treatments to aid in the dental practice. Incorporating aspects of applied kinesiology, biological dentistry holds that each tooth corresponds to a particular organ or organ system – along acupunctural meridians — and muscle, or set of muscles –- thus making applied kinesiology, and acupunctural stimuli, potential tools biological dentists can use to determine treatment for a patient (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p80-93).
The American Academy of Biological Dentistry, founded in 1968, is a professional organization dedicated to this discipline. Its founders, Edward Arana and Gary Verigin, were two California dentists who became fascinated with the direct relationship the teeth apparently exercised over other organs and parts of the body.
The group holds annual seminars and even maintains a website, http://www.biologicaldentistry.org/index.php.
The Center for Biological Dentistry, in Chula Vista, CA, is just one of many clinics which focus on this school of medicine. In addition to removing dental amalgams, the Center for Biological Dentistry also employs acupuncture at the conclusion of procedures to minimize, or even render unnecessary, the use of narcotic “pain killers”. The Center maintains an internet site as well, at www.biologicaldent.com.
The practice of Biological Dentistry is not limited to California, however — biological dentists can be found nationwide. The Institute for Biological dentistry, in Ellicott City, Maryland, treats the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.
While the idea that good dental health impacts overall health is shared in a general sense by the mainstream dental profession, many traditional dentists have criticized the biological dentistry discipline. Some biological dentists have found themselves on the wrong end of legal action as a result of particular practices; “According to a 1994 article in Milwaukee Magazine, a group of local patients filed suit against several practitioners… These patients had many perfectly healthy teeth removed without any improvement in their diseases” (www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/cavitation.html). This is alarming. While biological dentistry does view root canal-subjected teeth as a source of contamination, respected biological dentists say it is best to try “other measures first, and only remove the tooth as a last resort”. And removal of healthy teeth is frowned upon by any dentist (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p83).
While the toxic nature of many dental compounds (i.e., amalgam) has been well established – by government agencies, no less – many of the methodologies employed by biological dentists are still questioned by those in the mainstream profession, and not every biological dentist – like every “traditional” dentist – is a good one. A prospective patient should, as with all choice of medical practitioners, do his or her homework and make an informed selection.
[see Alexander technique].
11: Cell Therapy:
Cell Therapy is the injection of cellular material into the body, which is absorbed into similar organ systems at a molecular level. Using a technique initially developed in 1949 for freeze-drying coffee, cellular material is conserved and sterilized. The materials injected vary, but the idea is for the cells, which are broken down by the body, to be absorbed and used to revitalize body systems. Connective tissue and even cells from the gonads can be used; there is a belief among some practitioners that cell therapy helps the body cope with taxing episodes such as bouts of chemotherapy. According to one practitioner, there are three phases of cell therapy healing. The first is the immediate result, in which blood tests can reveal a return to normal from distressed state. This is followed often by an immune reaction in which the patient may feel some fatigue. Eventually, long-term healing results but this may take several months, as the patient’s overall health improves.
Dr. Paul Niehans, a Swiss physician, engaged in the first major, successful use of cell therapy in 1931. Niehans was intending to transplant an ill patient’s parathyroid glands, but the patient was deteriorating so rapidly the operation didn’t have time to begin. Dr. Niehans instead pulverized and injected the glands, and in no time the patient began to stabilize. Amazingly, Niehan’s patient lived another 30 years (http://www.healthatoz.com/healthatoz/Atoz/ency/cell_therapy.html).
The International Society for Cell Therapy, boasting over 1100 members, was founded in 1992 to promote the field; other societies, professional and medical organizations exist worldwide, although cell therapy has not yet gained wide acceptance in the U.S.
Cell therapy may seem unusual, but it actually is done everyday in major hospitals around the world, by traditional physicians: blood transfusions are the most common form of cell therapy.
However, cell therapy is usually distinguished from blood transfusion, for although blood transfusion is a type of cell therapy, cell therapy itself often involves addition of cells from specific organs. Studies have shown that these cells travel to their respective organs, where they are believed to aid in healing and recovery of said organ systems. (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p121).
12: Chelation Therapy:
This is a procedure used to draw plaque, toxic metals, and other harmful substances from the bloodstream. The procedure involves the administration of EDTA, or ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid via injections. EDTA has been used for treating toxins since 1948, when the U.S. Navy began using it in cases of lead poisoning (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p127).
The term chelation, which refers to the binding action of certain chemical actors and the ions, or charged particles, one desires to remove, was first introduced in 1920 by Morgan and Drew. The concept goes back further, however, to the 1893 introduction by Nobel Laureate Alfred Werner of his theory on metal-ligand bonding (The Scientific Basis of EDTA Chelation Therapy, Second Edition, Halstead & Rozema, 1997 TRC Publishing, p8).
How does chelation work?
Chelation typically involves the administration of an intravenous chelating agent (in most cases EDTA, or ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) to a patient over a period of several hours per treatment. The chelating agent (i.e., EDTA) forms a chemical bond to the ions in the patient’s body. The patient will often undergo several such sessions. As the chelating agent is excreted, the ions exit the body along with it. In a sense, chelation is used for detoxifying the body.
Chelation therapy has been dismissed as “voodoo” by some, but there are hundreds of anecdotal stories which checked out factually, of people facing loss of life or limb (amputation was literally considered in some cases) and making remarkable recoveries. While anecdotal evidence is not the same thing as controlled studies, the anecdotes do seem hard to ignore. This has prompted several studies of the process, one of which, in 1989, found improvement in 88% of all cases. The American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM) offers a database to help patients find doctors and specialists – including those in chelation therapy, and The American Board of Clinical Metal Toxicology, formerly the American Board of Chelation Therapy, was established in 1982 to promote standards in the field of chelation treatment. The name change was prompted primarily by emergence of new information regarding heavy metal toxicity, which has given the field of chelation therapy a more specific target. This includes a study by one Dr. Garry F. Gordon, MD, DO, MD(H), who himself claims benefit from intravenous chelation treatment.
Between its effect on blood clots/viscosity, and the removal of toxins and heavy metals, chelation therapy is a potentially beneficial treatment for millions, if its proponents are correct.
Although some might find fault with the statement by chelation advocates that there is “no safe level” of toxicity, considering everything is toxic at some level, and no-threshold standards of pollution have often been abused for political reasons and scare tactics, the fact remains that chelation therapy is a growing field with a good deal of potential benefit for some ailments which would otherwise leave patients facing severe treatments, such as amputation, or where conventional treatments for vascular problems do not work.
One such example is the case of a 72-year-old patient who had undergone two unsuccessful bypass surgeries. He was told he had no other options. However, after repeated chelation treatments, “there was an immediate improvement in the reduction of anginal episodes and an increase in work capacity… For longer than 2 decades he enjoyed complete symptomatic relief with no activity restriction”. This is the opinion of a bypass surgeon (Letter to the editor, Clinical Practice of Alternative Medicine, 2000, Vol.1, No.3).
There exists a controversy, nevertheless, not only amongst chelation proponents, about which methods are best, but also between traditional medicine and chelationists. Each side claims to have studies proving its point. Chelation advocates explain why it often seems like they lack certain evidence; “In the presence of turbulent blood flow past plaques, it requires only a 10% increase in arterial diameter to double the flow of blood (Poiseuille’s Law of hemodynamics as can be found in any textbook of medical physiology or biophysics). As proven in studies, arteriograms and ultrasound are not sensitive enough to consistently measure changes of less than 25% in the diameter of a blood vessel” (Dr. Elmer M. Cranton, http://www.drcranton.com/chelation.htm).
Although EDTA has only been approved by the government to use in cases of poisoning, chelation therapy has two main areas of focus; heavy metal toxcicity and vascular illness. However, the dual focus of chelation therapy makes it in an often confusion topic for those new to the field. On one hand, the ACAM protocol for administration of EDTA states that “Full benefit does not normally occur for up to 3 months after a series is completed” (ACAM). At the same time, there is also a belief that following the end of chelation treatment, toxins will begin to build up again. These two views may yet be reconciled – for instance, if one is treating blood vessels and not toxic metal in the body, this may not be a significant conflict — but sound, to the lay observer, like a contradiction. This has prompted many misunderstandings regarding chelation. Intravenous chelation is not a guaranteed cure-all. Many times repeated treatments are needed, for both vascular and toxic situations. Following treatment of an acute situation of poisoning, a patient will make a recovery, but the consensus seems to be that when the treatment stops, toxins start to accumulate once again in the body, at least partly due to the storage of toxic materials in the skeleton. For this reason some recommend a treatment of oral chelation as a first line measure of preventive medicine.
Oral chelation is a variation of this discipline, in which a patient consumes supplements, vitamins, and a chelating agent, with the goal of maintaining or improving health via the same process of toxin removal. However, unlike intravenous chelation, oral treatment is more a type of preventive medicine, and in the past, some oral chelatives were poorly formulated, and some even contained metals that would have complicated their function (The Scientific Basis of EDTA Chelation Therapy, Second Edition, Halstead & Rozema, 1997 TRC Publishing, p112).
Modern oral clathration is a variety on the chelation process. In this process, “a three-dimensional process. In this case, specifically-sequenced glycoproteins and peptides form a lattice (or inclusion complex) and multiple receptor sites that attach to a toxic molecule with irreversible bonds, literally wrapping around the toxic substance to prevent additional reactions with tissues or organs as it is eliminated from the body” (The Doctors’ Prescription for Healthy Living, cited by Awake Nutrition, www.awakenutrition.com).
As with any treatment involving the administration of a substance into the body, there is always a chance of adverse reaction of some kind. However, the chance is rather small, as true allergy to EDTA is very rare. Most of the reactions which do appear – and they appear infrequently at that – are to ingredients and additives to the solution other than EDTA. Lidocaine or procraine are sometimes employed – less often chemical preservatives can be used, but this will be indicated on the label. Substitution of nonessential ingredients [ingredients other than EDTA] in cases of known or suspected patient sensitivity can avoid almost all problems (A Textbook On Chelation Therapy, 1989 human Sciences Press, Editor, Elmer M. Cranton, p273).
There is some degree of disagreement in the field of chelation regarding the best method for administering the EDTA agent; Dr. Gordon favors oral sedation as a preventive measure, whilst others opt for intravenous injection in a strictly clinical setting, and actually warn against oral or other forms of administration, claiming a risk of cancer or other harm from EDTA if not administered in a clinical setting. Dr. Gordon claims that in 18 years of treating 15,000 patients, there has been no cancer, but a dispute in the field persists nevertheless. This is surprising, because EDTA has been used in all manner of consumer products over the past sixty years, both in the U.S. and Europe – from dyes to soft drinks (The Scientific Basis of EDTA Chelation Therapy, Second Edition, Halstead & Rozema, 1997 TRC Publishing, p113).
According to the forward by Linus Pauling, PhD, in the ACAM Textbook On Chelation Therapy, “it has a rational scientific basis, and the evidence for clinical benefit seems to be quite strong” (A Textbook On Chelation Therapy, 1989 human Sciences Press, Elmer M. Cranton, Editor, p7). Still, as with any treatment, one must learn as much as they can about the field and the particular practitioner he or she is considering.
13: Chinese Herbalism:
This treatment forms part of the treatment mainstay of Oriental medicine [see Oriental medicine] and is distinct from herbal remedies as we know them in the west.
This herbal treatment developed as an integral part of the Oriental medicine system. While Oriental medicine itself has its own diagnostic concepts and beliefs about causes of illness, its two main modalities of actually treating illness are with the herbs and acupuncture [see Acupuncture].
Unlike in the west, where herbs as well as drugs are taken because they are thought to have specific physiological effects, Chinese herbalists use herbal mixtures specifically designed to correct the imbalance they believe their patient is suffering from.
In keeping with its lengthy origins over a myriad of centuries, Chinese herbalism is a structured field. You cannot just walk in off the street and start yourself up in business as a Chinese herbalist. Genuine Chinese herbalists should be both knowledgeable and certified; “There is an additional test which may be taken by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). There are two parts to this certification. The first is the acupuncture portion (Dipl.Ac.) and the second is the Chinese Herbal Medicine portion (Dipl. C.H.). These credentials also indicate that the National standards for Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology have been achieved” (www.orientalmedicine.com ). This structure helps to assure that the herbal treatment is carried out according to its original intent and traditions.
Because Chinese herbal treatments are used to correct the disharmony of the body, the mixtures taken and prescribed are usually tailored to the needs of each patient. This is in marked contrast to western medicine and herbalism, in which drugs, and herbs, are used “off the shelf” to treat specific symptoms. Because of the traditional Chinese medicine’s concept of illness is so varied, with different imbalances being potentially responsible for very similar symptoms, Chinese herbalists seldom use the exact same treatment for the same symptoms.
Chiropractic treatment, first performed in its modern form in 1895 by Daniel David Palmer, grows out of an ancient tradition. Manipulation of the body was a common part of medical practice even a hundred or so years ago.
Today, however, chiropractic treatment is distinct from medicine, though it shares some ideas with another form of manipulation, osteopathy. Osteopathy, which actually predates modern chiropractic’s invention by Palmer, is a much broader discipline; osteopathy involves manipulation, but its practitioners can also prescribe medication and even do surgery [see Osteopathy].
Nevertheless, Americans seem to prefer chiropractors – as much as 94% of the manipulative therapy done in the U.S. is done at a chiropractor’s office.
A chiropractor treats patients by manipulating the backbone of the skeletal system — the vertebrae in the neck and back. The basis for this is the structure of the back; nerve endings protrude between the edges of each vertebra, and a misalignment of the spinal bones can result in pain, numbness, or other complaints. Patients suffering from radiculopathy, or pain and numbness radiating to the hand or arm, for example, are often afflicted with an injury to the back in the shoulder area (Merck Manual, 7th Edition, p1489). Other common complaints of pain or impaired mobility may have their root in the back.
This can be due to everything from a lifetime of bad posture to injuries resulting from a fall or car crash. Patients, who suffer from “whiplash”, or disc bulges in the intervertebral discs of the neck, often claim to obtain some relief via chiropractic manipulation. However, it must be noted that bulges – and worse, herniated discs — cannot be surgically repaired. Sometimes, vertebral discs too damaged to be “lived with” are removed and the adjoining vertebra fused together, which is one of the few surgical options to deal with this. Such surgery may remove painful discs but is dangerous, invasive, and results in decreased mobility. Many drug injections used for painful muscle spasms require unpleasant and repeated treatments, and are not always effective. These are just a few of the reasons why many go to a chiropractor.
When he can, the chiropractor readjusts to correct misalignment and eliminate pain or problem-causing malfunctions of the spine. However, there are cases – such as serious injury — where all the chiropractor can do is assist in pain management. Yet, even here chiropractic therapy may provide a valuable service by reducing the need for narcotic “pain killers”. Many people who see a chiropractor for injuries also seek treatment with regular doctors. In this respect, such patients are pursuing “integrative” medicine; that is, they are utilizing all the treatment options they can for the goal of addressing a common medical issue.
Chiropractors can sometimes treat conditions conventional medicine is unable to. Many headaches, for instance, are due to misaligned vertebrae. Adjusting the Atlas, the first bone of the spine, will correct a misalignment and often end chronic headaches. A specific line of chiropractic treatment, Atlas Orthogonal technique, or AO, is designed to treat this particular misalignment [See AO treatment].
Though most chiropractors are not medical doctors, they must undergo tests and “must also pass the national board exam and all exams required by the state in which the individual wishes to practice. The individual must also meet all individual state licensing requirements in order to become a doctor of chiropractic” (American Chiropractic Association, http://www.amerchiro.org). Many chiropractors also work with radiologists to use x-rays and other technological techniques in diagnosis where they cannot clearly evaluate a patient using manual means.
There are several types of chiropractic treatment. Some chiropractors prefer to use manual adjustments to stretch the joints slightly, often restoring a better range of motion and loss of pain. Others, however, rely on “nonforce” manipulation, or even electronic devices to adjust the joints. Some chiropractors also use applied kinesiology techniques to ensure a proper relationship between the skeletal-muscular systems, and the internal organs, and in order to maintain any corrective adjustments.
Although traditional medicine and natural or alternative treatments are often at odds, there are those who believe in integrating the two to form a complete medical system. However, this attitude has been largely absent in regard to chiropractic since its inception. As recently as the late 1960’s, the American Medical Association actually adopted a rule that would find doctors guilty of unethical conduct for associating with or even lecturing chiropractic practitioners. Traditional medicine has often remained hostile to chiropractic treatment (Alternate Medicine: What Works, Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, 1996, Publisher’s Group West, p48-50).
Chiropractic treatment, like any form of treatment, does entail some risks; improper manipulation can result in increased, rather than decreased pain, and even damage to the body. However, the reported incidence of these risks actually happening is very low: according to one report, there were only 112 reports of injury involving manipulation of the neck in a sixty-five-year time span (The Best Alternative Medicine: What works, what doesn’t, Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, 2000 Simon & Schuster, p220).
The modern chiropractic technique is often used as a first-line option for patients who do not want to undergo invasive surgery or consume powerful pain-numbing drugs unless they absolutely have to. In this capacity, it is effective to varying degrees, although there exists some controversy about the scientific basis for chiropractic’s effectiveness. However, there is no doubt that it does work. In fact, as early as 1921, Dr. Henry Winsor, a physician, conducted experiments on chiropractic conditions. He found an almost exact correlation between maladjustments of the spine, and dysfunction of internal organs. Sadly, in the over eighty years since Dr. Winsor’s experiments, little has been done to delve into the subject by standard medicine [See Winsor].
Despite some remaining antagonism between medical and chiropractic practitioners, the technique is one of the most widely known and probably the most “mainstream” alternative medical treatment. On June 25, 2004, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a list of chiropractic practitioners within the DVA health care system beginning this fall ( http://www.amerchiro.org ).
15: Colon Therapy:
Colon therapy is the process of maintaining and treating the colon to improve its function. This includes the taking of dietary supplements and foods that aid in the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon, as well as cleansing of the colon with laxative and water. This last, colonic irrigation, is a process by which a practitioner cleans the entire five feet of the colon using flowing water. Because the intestines are the site of nutrient absorption and plays an important role in health, good colon health is viewed as central to good overall health. While one treatment may not be enough to correct a long-standing bowel problem, many patients do claim a sense of improvement from the treatment. However, by itself colon cleansing is not a cure-all, and should be used along with part of an overall plan for colon wellness, including probiosis, or the introduction and maintenance of “friendly” bacteria in the gut. Whilst consuming yoghurt is one popular way to introduce good bacteria into the digestive tract, many people do not process dairy foods well. If you have this condition, known as lactose intolerance, it is possible to take dietary supplements containing helpful bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacteria, or Lactobacillus bulgaricus (Gentle Medicine, Angela Smyth, Published by Thorsons, HarperCollins Publishers, 1994, p324).
There are up to five hundred varieties of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, and the beneficial types can have wide-ranging impacts, from preventing infectious diarrhea to aiding in the processing of hormones, drugs, and other substances that find their way into the bowel. (Natural Ways to Digestive Health, Stephen Holt, MD, Wellness Publishing, 2000, p222). Conditions of the bowel which can be aided by colon therapy include gas, bloating, indigestion, constipation, and even bad breath (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p145)!
Because the body’s various components work together and all its system are interrelated, treating the colon can benefit certain conditions outside the bowel. This includes backache, headache, sinus and/or lung congestion, skin problems, and lack of energy (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p146).
16: Craniosacral Therapy:
Craniosacral Therapy refers to treating the craniosacral system. This refers to the head, or cranium, and the spinal column. Most people know about their pulse, but few are aware that craniosacral fluid circulates as well. Craniosacral therapy focuses on this circulation and corresponding changes in pressure.
The craniosacral, or cerebrospinal, fluid, is reabsorbed into the bloodstream through the membranes of the brain, causing a cyclic rhythm that moves in six to ten cycles every sixty seconds. A cranial therapist’s job is to feel the head of the patient and attempt to locate points at which the pressure has altered the location of the cranial bones by minute degrees. There are three main approaches to this task.
The sutural approach, popularized by Dr. William Garner Sutherland, an osteopath, focuses on the sutures, or joints, of the skull. By adjusting these sutures, he found, it is possible to alter the flow of the entire craniosacral system, affecting a variety of changes. His theory is based around his observations that the bones of the skull move in accordance with one another. That in itself is still debated today, but his approach — which is called cranial osteopathy — remains popular.
The meningeal approach focuses on tension in the meninges, or membranes of the brain itself. Developed in the 1970s, the meningeal approach was the result of collaboration between scientists at Michigan State University who sought to define in pure scientific terms the function of the craniosacral system. Dr. John Upledger, an osteopathic physician, focused on how he could release restrictions from the underlying cranial sutures.
The reflex approach shares much with applied kinesiology. This treatment method focuses on treating the craniosacral system with the wider goal of reducing stress or dysfunction elsewhere in the body. One example of this method is the Sacro-Occipital Technique, developed by a chiropractor who studied alongside Dr. Sutherland in the 1920s.
The use of craniosacral therapy is not limited solely to treating the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid. Working with the cranial bones to restore them to proper position – even of the movement is miniscule – can impact other problems in the body. One anecdotal account reveals a treatment of a woman who had complete deafness in one ear. Adjusting the cranial bone on the affected side actually restored her hearing (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p149-153).
Despite the advancement of the field and mainstream studies such as the Michigan State University research, modern medicine still tends to view the cranial bones as immobile. Nevertheless, craniosacral therapy is here to stay. Numerous professional organizations, including the Upledger Institute in Florida and the Cranial Academy in Indiana, exist to further the treatment in the U.S. Nor is the field static; new advocacy groups are being formed; in 1998 the Craniosacral Therapy Association of North America (http://www.craniosacraltherapy.org/CSTA_home.html) was created, to use just one example.
17: Detoxification Therapy:
[see Chelation Therapy].
18: Enzyme Therapy:
The use of plant and animal enzymes to assist in the body’s use of nutrients is called “enzyme therapy”.
This discipline involves both plant and pancreatic enzymes, but work with pancreatic enzymes predates the use of plant enzymes.
In 1902, pancreatic enzymes were used to treat tumors by injection. However, later attempts to employ this therapy, without proper stylization, gave it a bad name. Pancreatic enzymes such as protease, amylase and lipase may aid in the process of food in the intestine. The idea is that as digestion improves, many conditions that may have otherwise lingered will clear up.
Enzymatic therapy is also important in maintaining optimal digestion and function of the bowel. Since plant enzymes are destroyed when heated above 118 degrees, those who eat predominantly cooked vegetables can be more prone to pancreatic ailments. An enlarged pancreas, for instance, can be a result of the body’s attempt to work overtime to make up for an enzyme deficiency (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p217).
19: Feng Shui:
The name of this field comes from the Chinese words for wind and water (feng=wind, shui=water). This is an apt description because feng shui is the study of attaining the optimal balance in chi, or energy of life.
The concept of balancing your body’s energy is found in almost all practices of Oriental origin, from acupuncture [see Acupuncture] to the traditional Oriental medicine system itself [see Oriental medicine].
There are many people who seem to have co-opted the name of feng shui. But there are few groups in the U.S. who take it seriously. “Founded more than thirteen years ago in 1991, the American Feng Shui Institute is the only center in the West that is dedicated to teaching the practice of Feng Shui as a scientific discipline” (www.amfengshui.com).
While feng shui itself is not a “medical” discipline in the sense that other alternative therapies are, it forms the basis for the ideas which underlie many such therapies and approaches, including but not limited to
20: Herbal Medicine:
Herbs are plant parts which are used to manufacture products that react with the body; medicinal agents, aromatic products or spices. Herbs had been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years, but within the 20th century, the pharmaceutical and medical professions have moved away from purely herbal-based treatments, partly due to the inability of a company to patent an herb, making pure herbal treatments unprofitable in a traditional sense. This is ironic because many now synthetic substances used in medical treatments were originally of botanical origin.
In recent years there has been a resurgence in interest in herbal treatment. Moreover, herbal treatment is not on the fringe of modern medicine and health; there are plenty of modern remedies, such as St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum L.), which are of herbal origin, and you can get them off the shelf of any drug store… But in current western society this remains a marginal focus, mostly transferred from the pharmacy, to the health food store. It has proved a popular field; health food store sales of herbs and herbal drinks, such as teas, topped $467 million in 1990.
Prior to the 1906 Food and Drugs Act, followed by legislation in 1938, and again nearly thirty years on, in 1962, more direct herbal extracts were still used in American drugstores. However, between legislation, and the increasing efficiency of the manufacturing process, processed drugs came to dominate the pharmacy (The Honest Herbal, Third Edition, Varro E. Tyler, PhD., 1993 The Haworth Press, Inc., p11).
In other cultures, however, herbal remedies have been used for hundreds and even thousands of years without interruption, from the American Indians to the ancient Chinese tradition of herbal treatment [see Chinese herbalism]. With such a background, it is strange that herbal remedies have not gained more attention. Organizations, such as the American Herbalists Guild, promote the interests of herbal medicine and help guide its increasing re-entry into the medical profession. This is a growing area of the medical-health field. Just as recently as the past year, major newspapers in the northeast U.S. reported that licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) had potential anti-inflammatory properties. This wasn’t news to herbalists, however, as licorice has been used for years to do everything from treat peptic ulcer, to permanently deactivate the herpes simplex virus.
Because many herbs act in ways that are comparable to that of major drugs, they are a viable first line option for those who wish to avoid traditional medication, unless absolutely necessary. For instance, valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) has long been used as a natural “calmer.” A European study concluded it is safe as a nighttime sleep aid, with none of the side effects of drugs that are often taken for the same purpose (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p269), and Black Cohosh, derived from the roots of cimicifuga racemosa, has long been used by the American Indians to treat everything from sore throats to female ailments. But Black Cohosh – consumed by drinking the result of the boiled roots – saw particular use for women’s complaints. In experiments on mice in 1960, researchers failed to uncover any of the claimed estrogenic effects. However, in following experiments, an extract of the herb was found to form a bond with the estrogen receptors of laboratory rats, and scientists have since concluded that it has some estrogenic properties (The Honest Herbal, Third Edition, Varro E. Tyler, PhD., 1993 The Haworth Press, Inc., p45).
A more dramatic example is that of Dr. William Withering, a British physician from the eighteenth century. When one of Dr. Withering’s heart patients mysteriously recovered from dropsy – edema now known to be caused by a condition akin to congestive heart failure – Dr. Withering simply had to look into it. As luck would have it, the patient had consumed a botanical concoction – and of the 20 ingredients it contained, foxglove, or Digitalis pururea, “contains a cardiac glycoside that can increase the force of systolic pressure, heart contractions that drive blood through the aorta and pulmonary artery.” He published his findings in 1785, and “became an international celebrity” (Miracle Herbs, Holt and Comac, 1998 Birch Lane Press, p74). Yet another potent example is morphine, an opium derivative which has been used ever since the early 1800s when it was identified – although, due to its potency, it has seen less use of late.
A more well-regarded “herbal remedy”, especially these days, is the use of cranberry derivatives to help with urinary tract infections (UTIs), especially in females. Plenty of Americans drink their fill of cranberry juice, and are under the impression that by doing so they are helping to preserve their urinary tract health.
The health benefits of cranberry consumption were originally – and are largely — attributed to their acidity, which will render the urinary tract uninhabitable for potential infections. In 1923, U.S. scientists found that cranberry consumption rendered subjects more acidic, deterring their infection with bacteria, who prefer an alkaline environment. The fact, however, is that processed cranberry juice is probably more placebo than cure in this respect; a study done in the 1960’s found that commercial cranberry juice didn’t raise acidity to a beneficial level for UTI prevention. And given America’s growing penchant for sweets, even in their juice, the situation is unlikely to have improved since then.
Further research indicates that the cranberry and blueberry are the only two berries containing anti-adhesion factors, which literally prevent the offending bacteria from sticking to the epithelial cells of the urinary tract. Between the acidity contribution and anti-adhesion factors, the cranberry has become one of the most popular – and refreshing – herbal remedies (The Honest Herbal, Third Edition, Varro E. Tyler, PhD., 1993, The Haworth Press, Inc., p101-102).
Some herbs can also address concerns such as memory problems. Nerve cells, for instance, require acetylcholine to operate. Acetylcholine is created from lecithin, which can be found in eggs, but also soy bean oil, and can even be purchased in granulated form. There is evidence that taking 70 grams of lecithin per day aids in the maintenance of healthy, functioning memory (Gentle Medicine, Angela Smyth, Published by Thorsons, HarperCollins Publishers, 1994, p361).
Unfortunately, however, some herbs – like any treatment – can be misused. And though they may be more natural than processed drugs, there are still potential side effects for some. People with blood-clotting problems, for instance, should not take ginkgo biloba, to use just one example – and in high doses certain herbs may not be healthy. There are much fewer instances of herb-related deaths to drug fatalities – between 1983 and 1990 over two thousand people died due to drug complications, whereas there was one reported death related to herbs (Miracle Herbs, Holt and Comac, 1998 Birch Lane Press, p178-181). However, the figures may not paint a totally accurate picture, especially of potential reactions. Also, because the herbal industry is more or less self-regulating, at least compared to the strict rules under which pharmaceuticals operate, one must be an informed consumer. Before someone self-medicates or takes different substances in combination, they should find out all they can about potential affects, both positive and negative.
As the cost of prescription drugs, both economical and in terms of harmful or unhealthy side effects, continues to go up, the market for herbal treatments will continue to expand.
Homeopathy is a system designed to treat many chronic illnesses for which conventional medicine does not have an answer, employing herbal treatments and other methods of stimulating the body’s own recuperative powers. With an estimated 500 million patients and a 180-year recent history alongside modern medicine, worldwide, homeopathic practitioners are a large group indeed. Homeopathic remedies are recognized in the United States and their manufacture and labeling is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the organization that regulates traditional pharmaceuticals (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p272).
In the 1790’s, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, began experimenting; the results of his experiments were that he became convinced that substances which caused symptoms similar to a disease, would stimulate the body to fight said disease. While this may sound similar to the concept of vaccination in conventional medicine, the similarity is superficial. The idea wasn’t to stimulate the body’s immune system, but was rather based on the idea that if a substance caused symptoms similar to a disease, it would cure the disease. This idea had its root in the cause of most symptoms, which are actually the body’s defense mechanisms, such as fever [see Hyperthermia].
Hahnemann’s experiments were conducted on healthy subjects. His rules for the formulation of cures rested on this assumption that substances which caused symptoms in a healthy subject, would cure the ill – but this was never tested during his actual experiments.
Despite this, homeopathy grew into a widely followed discipline, partly due to the crudeness of conventional medicine at the time, which still used toxins and even bleeding. During an 1849 cholera outbreak in Cincinnati, only three percent of homeopathic patients died, compared to between 40-70 percent of those treated with what at the time were conventional methods. However it is not known if the disparity was more due to the invasive nature of the conventional medicine, at a time when sanitary conditions were crude at best, than to the advantages of homeopathy. The truth may simply have been that more people were killed by the conventional practices of the time than failed to recover by Hahnemann’s methods. Nevertheless, the impression created was that homeopathy was more effective.
Less than a hundred years later, advances in traditional modern medicine corresponded with declining interest in homeopathic therapy. Use of this methodology declined, and it had almost disappeared from the field in America. In Europe – the birthplace of the approach – homeopathy remained strong, however, and within half a century there was a resurgence of interest in homeopathic treatment in the U.S.
Homeopathic remedies number over two thousand, most of them prepared using dilution, because in homeopathy – unlike conventional medicine – the ideal treatment regimen is the smallest possible amount needed to stimulate the body’s own response. This is in marked contrast to conventional medicine’s view that the bigger the dosing, the more pronounced the effect. A complete listing of the homeopathic remedies can be found in the Homœopathic Pharmacopœia of the United States (HPUS), the official guide to homeopathic medicines.
Because homeopathic treatment relies on a series of dilutions, there is a belief among some of its critics that the homeopathic remedies are too watered-down to actually work, and that any positive result it has is the result of a placebo effect. However, there is no disputing that many people do indeed claim benefit from homeopathic treatment.
Classical homeopathy considered itself a complete health system, but in modern times homeopathic remedies are often employed alongside traditional modern medicine. The leading modern practitioner of today’s homeopathy, George Vithoulkas, teaches homeopathy in Athens, Greece – to a group composed only of conventional physicians or osteopaths. Combined with the use of laboratory testing to determine the expected effectiveness of some homeopathic treatments, the move is away from its use as a totally self-contained system, towards a process of integration with “traditional”, modern medicine (The Best Alternative Medicine: What works, what doesn’t, Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, 2000 Simon & Schuster, p199-201).
Hydrotherapy means, literally, water therapy. This includes external treatments, as well as internal treatment such as colonic irrigation.
External hydrotherapy has many proponents, and a long history of being used to reduce stress. It certainly is soothing, and is also used by chiropractors in some cases for muscle relaxation. (The Best Alternative Medicine: What works, what doesn’t, Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, 2000 Simon & Schuster, p217). Yet, some claim further benefits, including detoxification potential akin to the sort sought via chelation therapy.
“The term Hydrotherapy refers to the use of water to heal. Water can be used in many ways in internal and external applications to the body. … In many cases, hydrotherapy is believed to have a basic cleansing property or it ‘exercises’ the body for cleansing. Orthodox medicine often considers hydrotherapy to be of nebulous benefit, but it is widely practiced in modified formats – even in ‘high powered’ medical institutions.
“The use of hot or cold water applied to body surfaces was made into a scientific endeavor by the Romans. Exquisitely decorated baths exist in several European countries – especially England – that still stand as a memorial to Roman hydrotherapists. The use of hydrotherapy is so popular in Germany that it is a reimbursable health treatment. The French are spa lovers, and hydrotherapy is often used in medical practice in France. In contrast, the British and Americans see hydrotherapy as pampering, and it is used more as a cosmetic treat than a treatment.
“Some recent studies on hydrotherapy are emerging, and one could anticipate that with the right kind of clinical-outcome questionnaire, benefit could be shown definitively. Sensations of wellbeing, reduction of stress, feelings of invigoration and refreshment – all score high after bathing. Whether or not hydrotherapy detoxifies the body is under study.
“Dr. A. Heywood and his colleagues studied the use of bathing for body detoxification in the famous English city of Bath. These English researchers suggested that full body immersion at 35 °C for at least one and one-half hours together with the drinking of mineral water in copious amounts resulted in improvement in individuals with lead (or heavy metal) poisoning. Changes in cardiac output (function of the heart) and excretion of urine were documented with an objective measure of increased lead excretion in the urine. It appears that real measurable benefits are possible with hydrotherapy” (Natural Ways to Digestive Health, Stephen Holt, MD, Wellness Publishing, 2000, p257).
Many persons may be familiar with the term “Hypothermia”, which means an abnormally low body temperature. People are commonly advised to avoid this condition, especially in the wintertime. However, its opposite – hyperthermia – may have value in the field of natural medicine.
Hyperthermia is the rise of body temperature above its normal level of 98.6 ° Fahrenheit. This elevated temperature alters body function, and may play a part in killing many infectious organisms. Many viruses, for instance, can survive in a much narrower temperature range than human beings; the result is that by raising your body temperature it may be possible to kill the organisms and prevent or reduce infection.
One can increase body temperature by a variety of means. The most common is the external application of heat. This can be in the form of hot packs, hot water bottles, or heated baths [see Hydrotherapy]. Other, more technological means include Diathermy – the use of radio waves to expose the body to electromagnetic energy — and the use of infrared heat (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p300).
Your body’s natural mechanism for hyperthermia is commonly regarded as an unpleasant symptom; the fever.
Even when higher temperatures do not kill an infectious organism, hyperthermia often produces beneficial results. Many organisms, even if they survive, are weakened and of reduced activity.
There are contraindications to hyperthermia; those with heart problems or other conditions that could be destabilized by drastic temperature changes should avoid this treatment. But for many, it offers relief – and possibly even a drug free way to rid the body of infection.
Hypnosis, or hypnotherapy, involves using the power of suggestion to treat everything from undesired behavioral patterns to headaches. Hypnosis was approved in 1955 by the British Medical Association; the American Medical Association approved its use three years later.
Patients who enter into the first stage of hypnosis, the superficial stage, are open to suggestions. but may not necessarily act on them. It is the patients who undergo somnambulistic hypnosis who will derive greatest benefit from hypnosis, as the suggestions of the hypnotist will remain with them once they “awaken” from their trance-like state.
Hypnosis was introduced to the world in the late 1700s by Franz Anton Mesmer, a German physician who called his new technique “mesmerism”. Though Mesmer’s original understanding of exactly how his technique worked sounds questionable today, and he was ultimately banned from practicing his method in France, “mesmerism” eventually became quite popular. The term hypnosis was coined by James Braid, a British ophthalmologist; Sigmund Freud, largely viewed as the father of modern psychology, employed and helped to popularize this treatment, only relegating it to secondary status once he had created his own theories and practices.
Research has shown that under hypnosis, body chemistry is altered and blood cortisol levels – indicators of stress – remain low, even in situations that would cause them to rise absent the hypnosis. Anecdotal evidence even shows the use of hypnosis to dull pain, with cases of it being used in lieu of traditional anesthesia during surgery, both in the 1800’s and present day (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p306).
Studies and experiments have indicated the potential for hypnosis used to treat diseases, leading to questions about how much of the human body in under voluntary control. The idea seems to be similar, at least in intended outcome, to biofeedback training [see Biofeedback]. In 1989, a doctor at the University of Milan found hypnosis reduced pain from ischemic heart disease in hypnosis-susceptible patients, and a 1991 study found it helpful in patients with fibromyalgia, a painful condition that involves non-cancerous cysts. One 1998 study found hypnosis correlated with a doubled survival rate in breast cancer patients (The Best Alternative Medicine: What works, what doesn’t, Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, 2000 Simon & Schuster, p349, and p69-70).
25: Light treatment:
There is a growing movement to promote access by individuals to the full spectrum of light, noting that inadequate lighting can affect the endocrine system, which is triggered by the optic nerves’ exposure to light. It is also noted that lighting can have a psychological impact, as in seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, in which a person’s mood deteriorates due to lack of exposure to sunlight. SAD is especially prevalent in the winter months, when there is less daylight and the sky is often overcast, and most people remain indoors due to the weather. However, similar symptoms can occur in any weather, when indoor lighting is to blame. Most indoor lighting does not contain the full spectrum of light.
Consequently, scientists, researchers, and healthcare-givers have sought to augment the light most people receive each day, with the appropriate amounts to approximate sunlight exposure. Called light therapy or treatment, this is usually accomplished via special light boxes.
The body’s own timing mechanism, known as the circadian system, is controlled by external light’s effect on the pineal gland. This gland produces melatonin during times of darkness, leading to restful sleep. In disorders, however – including SAD – melatonin levels are unusually high during waking hours; lack of exposure to an adequate spectrum of light is the usual suspect.
Meditation is the use of mental exercise to affect physiological change. Using meditation, practitioners of this activity are able to moderate their heart-rate and other functions normally considered beyond voluntary control. It is perhaps similar to bio-feedback training in some respects – but without the use of technology.
There are two main categories of meditation: concentrative, and mindfulness. Concentrative meditation involves focusing one’s attention on a particular aspect in the moment – a sound, or breathing, for instance. Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, involves the opposite approach – opening one’s mind to the experiences around him, rather than narrowing his focus. In mindful meditation, the goal is to literally experience whatever goes through your mind – absent conscious direction.
The use of meditation may reduce stressful conditions on the body. Studies have found that meditation leads to reduced indicators for stress, including a decreased heart and respiration rate, reduced pulse. Meditation has also been shown to reduce cortisol, a major hormone associated with stress. It has also been shown to increase EEG alpha brain waves, which are linked to a state of relaxation (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p340-341).
For some other alternative medicine practices, meditation is the beginning, not the end. For instance, Therapeutic Touch practitioners begin their sessions by meditating before they even interact with a patient [see Therapeutic touch].
27: Mind/body Medicine:
This emerging field covers many categories of alternative medicine, including a focus on the interaction between the mind and body – hence the name – but also including meditation, biofeedback technology, and other disciplines that relate to the topic of joining mind and body in pursuit of health. Mind/body medicine also focuses on energy fields, that is, on the body’s electronic currents. While the most modern version of this focus is the updated version of a centuries-old practice – electroacupuncture – it includes other disciplines, such as Therapeutic Touch [see Therapeutic Touch], which are more controversial. In therapeutic touch, which itself incorporates several ancient healing concepts, the healer attempts to manipulate and direct the body’s electronic energy.
While the psychological and physiological benefits of human contact cannot be understated – science shows unattended children actually have abnormal pituitary gland function, resulting in growth deficits – the basis for therapeutic touch is less grounded in traditional science. Yet, many insist they have benefited from this unusual therapy.
Mind/body treatment is totally opposed to modern or conventional medicine’s tendency to alleviate symptoms. They views symptoms as part of the body’s natural defense, and therefore important contributors in a return to health.
The mind/body practitioner also tends to view an illness, not just as an adversary, but as a warning about the overall state of a patient’s health. After treating the illness, it is not uncommon for the practitioner to encourage a patient to evaluate his lifestyle and change it to one that is more conductive of good health. While this may seem like common sense, the mind/body school of treatment puts special emphasis on this. Indeed, “treating the whole patient” is not just a slogan for the mind/body field, it is a way of conducting medicine.
Regulation of body functions is also employed where possible. As with the electronic field focus, the focus on regulating such functions as respiration fit well within the belief of mind/body medicine that the human mind should be used to try and treat the human body. The goal is to try and exert a conscious influence over what are normally deemed involuntary functions, not just for the physiological benefit that, say, a more stable respiratory rate will provide, but also for the emotional and psychological benefit of being more in control of one’s own body and existence (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p355-356).
28: Naturopathic Medicine:
This area of alternative medicine is focused on treating and maintaining health, just not eliminating disease. As the World Health Organization (WHO) defines it, Naturopathic medicine strives for a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of infirmity” (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, The Burton Goldberg Group, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc., 1994, p360).
This sounds like a very general definition; given the nature of WHO that is not a surprise. However, despite several similarities to other alternative medicine fields, naturopathic medicine has several distinctions.
First, naturopathic medicine views illness as a temporary condition to be eliminated by the body’s own defense mechanism, not a chronic sentence to be “lived with” while taking pain killing drugs. This is no truer than in a naturopath’s focus on using their efforts to help the body heal itself. However, unlike mind/body medicine [see Mind/body], naturopathic medicine puts much more focus on the physical and less on the mental aspects of self-healing.
As part of this approach, naturopathic medicine often avoids treating symptoms, many of which represent natural defense mechanisms, such as fever [see Hyperthermia].
Everyone has at one point heard the phrase “it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” In naturopathic medicine, this is literally true. While assisting the body’s own natural defenses, the naturopathic patient and his doctor may witness a return of acute symptoms much as they were at the onset of the condition. This is called the “healing crisis” and is usually followed by a marked improvement or recovery.
Naturopathic physicians may employ various other techniques, ranging from hydrotherapy to acupuncture and herbal medicines. But they use these methods within the guidelines of their naturopathic philosophy. They are not acupuncturists, nor herbalists – but naturopaths.
29: Oriental Medicine:
The term “oriental medicine” can have many meanings. To some it is a catch-all including such distinct disciplines as acupuncture [see Acupuncture]. Other times, it is used to refer to various aspects of Chinese and other Asian medicine. However, oriental medicine is actually a distinct medical system developed in China over thousands of years. This traditional Chinese medicine is much less invasive than contemporary Western medicine, and also is less specific: instead of attacking a disease it focuses on preventing disease; instead of surgery, it utilizes herbs, acupuncture, and other natural treatments as a first-line defense of health. The focus is on returning the body to a state of harmony, or balance.
Nearly everyone is familiar with the yin-yang symbolism of opposing light and dark semicircles. This symbol stands for balance. Without one thing, there cannot be its opposite. Oriental medicine has broken the organ and other body systems into groups. Certain organs are interrelated, and certain organs oppose the functions of other, maintaining a balance. Yang represents the light side, functions of heat, activity, etc. Yin represents darkness, cold, stillness. Chinese herbs [see Chinese herbalism], which compose a large amount of oriental medicine treatment, are designated into the same categories, thus making it easy for a oriental medicine practitioner to determine which condition merits which herbal remedy.
Osteopathy actually predates chiropractic treatment, and unlike chiropractors, most osteopathic practitioners can prescribe medication, and even do surgery. Essentially, osteopaths are conventional physicians – with a chiropractic background. However, where chiropractors limit their treatment and manipulations to the area of the spine and neck, osteopaths take a wider view, and treat all of the musculoskeletal system, including the limbs.
Osteopathic medicine was founded by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, who was an army surgeon during the American Civil War (The Best Alternative Medicine: What works, what doesn’t, Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, 2000 Simon & Schuster, p230).
Osteopathy is a more mainstream medical practice than chiropractic, primarily because its practitioners are allowed to prescribe medication or even do surgery, two things which chiropractors are not licensed to do. However, Osteopaths prefer these more traditional options as last resorts.
31: Pyramid Therapy:
This is a FengShui variant in which the shape of the pyramid and its energy are the focus of study. The
33: Therapeutic Touch (TT):
This field of alternative treatment, founded in 1972, incorporates several aspects from different ancient practices, with a modern interpretation. Therapeutic touch can be used to “relax the body, to reduce or eliminate pain, to accelerate healing, and to alleviate stress-related illness” (The Spiritual Dimension of Therapeutic Touch, Dolores Krieger, 2004 Bear & Company, p2.). The basis for this practice is that it is possible for the “trained and mindful” healer to manipulate the body’s energy patterns.
While the psychological and physiological benefits of human contact cannot be understated – science shows unattended children actually have abnormal pituitary gland function, resulting in growth deficits – the basis for therapeutic touch is less grounded in traditional science. In fact, it relies a great deal upon the foundations of ancient mysticism. As any school kid knows, the body does contain electrical current. But the energy patterns on which the TT treatment is based are something more intangible. They embody the yin-yang balance of the traditional Oriental medicine system [see Oriental medicine], the primacy of consciousness view held by mind/body practitioners [see Mind/body] whereby the human mind can take control of normally involuntary facets of the human body, and the patient can literally be healed by the mind of the healer using the earth’s and body’s own energy fields. Yet, many insist they have benefited from this unusual therapy, which has a growing following.