The alternatives to orthodox Western medicine mentioned here share
several common features: They were established long before our current
scientific approaches to explaining and dealing with wellness and
illness; rather than being disease-oriented therapies, they are
methods for restoring and maintaining health; and all work with
respect to the body's natural ability to heal. None offer quick-fix
solutions but require participation in a process in which patient
and practitioner work together to articulate and achieve goals.
Some methods necessitate major life changes, others may become a
catalyst for new approaches to living.
Until the beginning of modern science and chemistry, almost all
medicines were herbs. Herbal remedies were first systematized in
ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt and China. Herbs are natural medicines
that contain a variety of biologically active ingredients and are
used to successfully treat allergies, bacterial and viral infections,
chronic fatigue, immune disorders, fever, cuts, burns, rashes, and
reproductive problems. They can also be used as relaxants and stimulants.
About 25% of conventional pharmaceuticals include synthetic forms
Herbs are generally safer and gentler than prescription drugs,
and often more effective. In many instances, they work in areas
where Western medical treatments fail. Herbal remedies can be used
for prevention of illness, as complementary substances with drugs,
or in place of pharmaceuticals. Because certain herbs can be toxic,
following the advice of a health professional or a detailed guidebook
Herbs are used fresh or dried, can be prepared in capsules, pills,
powders, concentrated liquids, extracts and teas. They can also
be applied topically in creams or ointments, and used as compresses
Nutritional healing is a natural method of overcoming illness and
maintaining wellness without the use of toxic drugs. Nutritional
medicine recognizes the body as a complex biochemical system that
has specific requirements for optimal function. In addition to proteins,
fats, carbohydrates, and water, there are over 40 different vitamins,
minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and other components, including
oxygen and sunlight, that are necessary for maintaining wellness.
A deficiency in any of these essential nutrients will result in
some form of ill-health ranging from a barely perceptible or subclinical
problem to serious and even life-threatening disease. While single
deficiencies are rare, multiple subclinical deficiencies are common
among people with a typical Western diet which is characterized
by an excess of processed foods that are high in fat and sugar,
and lacking in whole, fresh foods that provide vital nutrients.
Nutritional medicine uses dietary changes, vitamins, minerals,
herbs, and other supplements to encourage the entire body to heal
itself. In this manner, the cause of disease or illness, not just
the symptoms, are alleviated. Although there are general rules for
proper nutrition, each person has a unique body chemistry that affects
how they respond to nutrients. What works quickly and well for some
may not work at all for others. In cases of serious or chronic illness,
it is important to seek individualized care that can identify digestive
malfunctions and toxic buildup. Also, vitamins and minerals interact
in complex ways and are absorbed differently by each person.
Naturopathy is a system of medicine that promotes health by stimulating
and supporting the body's inherent power to heal. Although the term
naturopathy was first adopted in the early 1900s, its philosophical
basis dates back as far as 400 BC. A naturopathic doctor, or ND,
seeks to discover and alleviate the root causes of disease rather
than eliminating or suppressing symptoms, works with a patient to
create conditions that enhance healing, and avoids drugs and surgery
whenever possible. Since physical and psychological elements are
recognized to contribute to disease, NDs generally pay considerable
attention to a patient's lifestyle.
Treatments include dietary changes and nutritional therapy, herbs,
vitamins and other supplements, and forms of physical exercise.
Naturopaths may use a number of alternative therapies including
homeopathy and traditional Oriental Medicine. The naturopathic approach
emphasizes education and endeavors to provide the patient with information
on what they can do independently to maintain or improve health.
Founded in 1790, homeopathy comes from two words, homeo meaning
similar, and pathy designating disease. Homeopathy is commonly practiced
in many countries including France, India, Mexico, Russia, and England,
where one in three people, including the royal family, use homeopathy
as their primary form of medical care. Introduced to the US in 1825,
by 1890 there were 14,000 homeopathic physicians, 22 homeopathic
medical schools and 100 homeopathic hospitals nationwide. Fifty
years later, regulation by and reliance on Western medicine had
driven homeopathy to near extinction. But today, more than 2.5 million
Americans seek homeopathic care each year.
According to the principles of homeopathy, disease represents an
imbalance in the immune system, and a small stimulus can restore
the balance of the body's natural defenses. Homeopathy operates
on the Law of Similars, the principle that "like cures like."
For example, a person suffering with diarrhea would be given a highly
diluted amount of a substance that induces diarrhea, thus stimulating
natural healing mechanisms. Homeopathy has proved particularly helpful
in resolving chronic and transient conditions such as asthma, allergies,
arthritis, colds and flu.
Rather than treating specific diseases or problems, homeopaths
treat the whole person based on an assessment of all physical and
emotional symptoms, and do not necessarily employ the same remedies
for different people with the same problem. However, over-the-counter
homeopathic combinations are safely and successfully used for fever,
swelling, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, food poisoning,
insect bites, headaches, earaches, colds and flu, and many other
The role of cleansing in recovery, wellness and immune system fortification
is commonly underestimated despite the fact that most all health
professionals will agree that a sick body is a toxic body. Cleansing
rids the body of toxins, allowing the organs and body systems to
rejuvenate themselves naturally.
Toxic acids are by-products of normal metabolic changes in cells
known as cell catabolism. We also take in varying amounts of toxic
materials from air, water and other environmental sources, from
the herbicides, pesticides and chemical additives in food, as well
as from prescription and street drugs. The body's ability to clear
away the toxic materials created and assimilated each day is vital
to health and immune response. Problems occur when these poisons
accumulate faster than they are eliminated or when one or more of
the systems designed to rid the body of toxins is underactive. Health
and recovery programs that use detoxification and cleansing aid
the body's natural systems that eliminate poisons, and facilitate
the rebuilding of body tissues.
Colon hydrotherapy, juice fasting and diets, herbs, vitamins, minerals,
and enzymes are used for detoxification and cleansing purposes.
Some of these methods can be employed without professional supervision,
but in the case of serious illness, it is important to regulate
the amount of toxins released into the bloodstream during cleansing.
Ayurveda is a unique approach to physical health, mental clarity,
and even spiritual fulfillment that began in India more than 5,000
years ago. The term Ayurveda derives from the Sanskrit roots ayur
which means life, and veda meaning knowledge. The three doshas or
body types, vata, pitta and kapha, are the cornerstone of Ayurvedic
diagnosis and treatment. Determining a dosha involves gathering
specific information on physical and psychological history and tendencies
in order to create a detailed portrait of a type of individual.
Every person has a different mixture of doshas; usually one is
most prominent and another is secondary. According to Ayurveda,
keeping the doshas in balance can facilitate healing and lead to
a healthier and longer life. Specific health problems may also be
alleviated through Ayurvedic medicine.
Ayuverdic practitioners generally prescribe a variety of foods,
herbs, exercises, breathing techniques, massages and dosha-specific
diets with the goal of detoxifying and balancing the system.
A major component of Oriental Medicine, acupuncture works by altering
the internal flow of vital life energy or chi. This life energy
moves along established pathways or meridians in the body that relate
to the organs and the tendo-muscular system. When the balance of
chi is disturbed due to physical or emotional trauma, poor diet,
pharmaceuticals, stress, genetic or environmental factors, pain
or illness result. Inserting hair-thin needles at specific meridian
points restores the balance of chi by calming, strengthening or
removing a blockage of the flow. An average acupuncture treatment
involves five to 15 needles in a procedure that usually causes little
discomfort. In addition to, or sometimes instead of inserting needles,
an acupuncturist may use a treatment called moxibustion in which
heat is applied directly above acupuncture points.
Acupuncture is generally used in conjunction with Chinese Herbology.
Both are safe medical procedures that are known for their efficacy
and lack of adverse side effects. Doctors of Oriental Medicine,
or OMDs, prescribe herbal combinations according to a complex system
of diagnosis. These herbal formulas are intended to help the body
correct imbalances of energy while stimulating the natural healing
process. A number of clinical and laboratory studies have generated
scientific evidence that herbs can effectively treat many diseases.
Herb formulas may be prepared in pills, capsules, granules, tinctures
or teas, and are an important part of the traditional system of
The concept that imagination has the ability to cure illness is
not new. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians believed that images release
spirits in the brain that stimulate various organs and functions,
and that a mental picture of disease is enough to cause its symptoms.
In the 1600s, imagery was thought to wield such power that it could
even affect embryos in pregnant women. One hundred years later,
doctors and healers changed their minds and agreed with French philosopher
René Descartes who asserted that the mind and body were separate
and had no influence on each other.
Imagery came back into practice in the 1970s as a method for helping
cancer patients. In one landmark study, cancer patients who used
imagery in conjunction with standard medical care lived twice as
long as those receiving medical care alone.
Several studies suggest that imagery can boost immune response.
Imagery has been used to increase activity of natural killer cells
that recognize and destroy virus-infected cells, other microbes,
and tumor cells. Other studies have shown that imagery can lower
blood pressure, slow heart rate, alleviate insomnia, relieve stress
and anxiety, treat phobias and obesity, and help regulate menstrual
cycles. PET scans (positron-emission-tomography tests that highlight
areas of brain activity) have demonstrated that the brain can react
the same way to an imagined sensation as a real one.
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