Alternative Medicine

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Alternative Medicine  
 
Throughout recorded history, people of various cultures have relied on what Western medical practitioners today call alternative medicine. The term alternative medicine covers a broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies. It generally describes those treatments and health care practices that are outside mainstream Western health care.  
 
 
Worldwide, only an estimated ten to thirty percent of human health care is delivered by conventional practitioners. The remaining seventy to ninety percent ranges from self-care to care given in an organized health care system based on alternative therapies.  
 
The number of people using alternative therapies is staggering. In 1991 about twenty-one million Americans made four hundred and twenty-five million visits to practitioners of these types of alternative medicine; more than the estimated three hundred and eighty-eight million visits made to general practitioners that year.
Americans spend thirty-four billion dollars on alternative medicine annually. The U.S. Department of Education has accredited more than twenty acupuncture schools and more than thirty medical schools now offer courses in acupuncture.  
 
Critics say a definitive scientific answer must await well-designed experiments involving many patients.
Mainstream scientists often criticize alternative medicine as charlatanism, arguing that anything alternative that's been proven to work is in fact...mainstream medicine. Advocates of alternative medicine, in contrast, typically point to their personal experiences as proof of the effectiveness of such interventions.

 
Some alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and herbal medicine, have impressive histories dating back thousands of years. In America, professional and public interest in the field of alternative care has grown to such an extent that, in 1992, the U.S. government established the Office of Alternative Medicine within the National Institutes of Health. Its mission is to speed the discovery, development, and validation of potential treatments to complement the current healthcare system. One of the its first tasks was to develop a classification system for the dozens of various therapies and practices. The systems of alternative medical practice the OAM has classified so far share many common therapeutic techniques.  
 
Following are some the more popular alternative therapies Americans use.  
 

Acupuncture  
 
Acupuncture is an example of a therapy once considered bizarre which has some scientific basis. It is based on the belief that energy, which the Chinese call Qi (pronounced 'chee'), circulates along meridians
[ ] in the body in the same way that blood flows. A diagram [ai] of the meridian system looks similar to those of our circulatory and nervous systems. When the flow of energy becomes blocked, an imbalance is created, resulting in pain or disease. To restore the proper balance and energy flow, acupuncturists stimulate specific points of the body along these meridians. Puncturing the skin with a needle is the usual method, but acupuncturists may also stimulate the acupuncture points with finger-pressure.  
 
Although Western physicians and researchers do not truly understand the concept of Qi, there is evidence that acupuncture can influence the movement or release of many chemicals in the body. Researches established that acupuncture releases naturally produced, morphine
[ ] like substances called endorphins. 
 
In addition to releasing endorphins, doctors and clinicians know that acupuncture can provide at least short-term relief for a wide range of pains by inhibiting the transmission of pain impulses through the nerves.  
 
Furthermore, recent studies also show acupuncture to be effective in alleviating bronchial asthma, bronchitis, and stroke-induced paralysis.  
 

Mind-Body Healing  
 
 Relaxation techniques like meditation and biofeedback--which teach patients to control heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and other involuntary 
[ ] functions through concentration--have also given respectability to alternative medicine and are often taught to patients and medical students. The basic premise of mind-body medicine is that the power of the mind can be used to help heal the body by improving the person's attitude and also, as recent research has shown, by direct effects on the immune, endocrine [ ], and nervous systems. Although many of the biochemical and physiological mechanisms remain to be identified, an increasing body of evidence is showing that the healthy mind is indeed capable of mobilizing the immune system-and that the troubled mind can dampen the functioning of the immune system and contribute to physical disease.  
 
There is little doubt that state of mind and physiological processes are closely linked. The connection between stress and immune system response, for example, is well documented. Some scientists suggest that the power of prayer and faith healing, like some forms of meditation, might also be physiological in that they may protect the body from the negative effects of stress hormones. In addition, experience shows that relaxation techniques can help patients enormously.  
In addition to preventing or curing illnesses, these therapies provide people the chance to be involved in their own care, to make vital decisions about their own health, to be touched emotionally, and to be changed psychologically in the process. Many patients today believe their doctor or medical system is too technical, impersonal, remote, and uncaring. The mind-body approach is potentially a corrective to this tendency, a reminder of the importance of human connection that opens up the power of patients acting on their own behalf.  
 
 
 
Conclusion  
 
Many Americans flock to alternative practices either because their suffering has not been alleviated by standard medical or surgical treatment, or because the traditional treatments themselves are too expensive or dangerous. These patients often feel that the intrusion of increasingly complicated and impersonal technology has widened the gap between mainstream caregivers and patients. Too many doctors are thought to be coolly professional and emotionally distant, inclined to cure a specific disorder narrow-mindedly without comforting or caring for the patient. Americans have made it clear with their pocketbooks that they find this unacceptable.  
 
The power of the mind-body connection has been confirmed from many scientific studies. I think in some conditions a person's belief alone can dramatically eliminate their symptoms. There have been hundreds of popular remedies found that have proven to be ineffective or sometimes even harmful. Herbal remedies and many folk remedies have not survived scientific testing for many years now, and if they did they would stop being "alternative medicines" and become a part of scientific therapies. I think if a person is using a harmless remedy and they really believe in it, then using it will help improve their condition. The bottom line is that we just don't know what these substances are doing. They many be inactive, or they may have activity independent of their powerful belief effect. They could match up with their advertised uses, or they may be effective for something entirely different. They could very well be harmful. Many unmodified plant products do not have near the amount of predictability that regular medicines have. People that are taking herbal remedies are engaged in a big natural experiment with many untested substances. Before people turn to alternative medicine it is important that they research it as much as possible so they have some idea of what they are getting in to, and they really better believe in it. 

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Throughout recorded history, people of various cultures have relied on what Western medical practitioners today call alternative medicine. The term alternative medicine covers a broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies. It generally describes those treatments and health care practices that are outside mainstream Western health care.
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