Search our Blog

Search our Blog

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine Right for You?

From massage to St. John’s wort, older adults are trying out non-traditional methods of healing in increasing numbers. 

As Americans age, they are increasingly turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to relieve pain and find cures for what ails them. The flower children of the 60s are the baby boomers of today, and they may be more comfortable using alternate therapies than previous generations. These therapies are a lot easier to find nowadays, with herbal remedies in every Natural Grocers and Costco Wholesale store, while it only takes a quick search on the internet to find a local chiropractor.

Watch Out for Supplements

Many people take over-the-counter supplements, such as herbs, to improve their health. A little ginkgo biloba for the brain, a little St. John’s wort to avoid depression. What could go wrong? Plenty, as it turns out. First, the amount and source of active herb contained in each pill or capsule are only loosely regulated — as food, not as drugs. Second, the herbs may interfere with other medications or supplements you may be taking. Some herbs dampen clotting factors in the blood, others can make critical drugs less effective. For a partial list of drug interactions, go here.

Fortunately, pharmacists are being trained to counsel patients on potential problems after the demand for supplements skyrocketed in recent years. But they can’t dispense advice when they don’t know what supplements a patient is taking, and people are often hesitant to reveal that they are self-medicating, even to their doctor. Even if you’re just taking daily vitamins, be sure to tell your doctor and pharmacist every treatment you are taking so they can help you steer clear of potential problems.

Is Cannabidiol (CBD) Legal?

CBD is quickly becoming popular for a variety of uses, including pain relief. It does not produce the high of marijuana. However, its legality can be a bit confusing. Here’s a rundown:
  • All hemp-derived CBD that has 0.3% or less THC is legal under federal law. 
  • States have different laws regarding CBD’s legality, so confirm with your state.
  • Marijuana and hemp CBD laws are not the same; some states allow both, one, or neither.
  • Federally allowed CBD can be legally mailed to all 50 states.
  • There are many options for legally purchasing CBD, including online.

A recent survey of 31,000 adults in the U.S. found that 70% had used at least one kind of CAM treatment at some point. That makes it one of the quickest growing fields of healthcare. The same survey found that the most commonly treated conditions are:
Back pain and back problems
Neck pain and other neck issues
General joint pain and stiffness
Anxiety and depression

Most adults (88%) elected to self-treat, which is not surprising considering insurers usually do not cover CAM. One reason people turn to CAM is that they feel that conventional medicine is too expensive. 

What is CAM?

Complementary and alternative medicine covers a wide range of practices that are meant to enhance or replace Western medicine. While conventional medicine concentrates on treating the disease, such as attacking a virus or bacteria, CAM looks at the whole person: physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, and social components. Often, the goal is to prevent illness before it starts. Treatments are highly individualized and designed to support the body’s natural healing processes. 

Complementary medicine is usually defined as augmenting traditional practices, while alternative treatments may replace Western medicine. So, someone may use meditation to help with the pain of cancer while being treated in a hospital (complementary) or elect to seek out a “natural” cure in place of traditional treatment (alternative). 

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) classifies therapies into five groups:
  1. Alternative medical systems. These are complete systems of health theory and practice. Examples are Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), homeopathy, and naturopathy.
  2. Biological medicine. This therapy uses things found in nature to promote health and healing. Examples are herbs, foods, and vitamins.
  3. Energy medicine. This type uses energy fields to heal. One branch seeks to influence fields surrounding the body. Examples are Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, and qi gong. Another branch, known as bioelectromagnetic-based medicine, employs electromagnetic fields. An example is electroacupuncture.
  4. Manual medicine. Manipulation and movement of body parts are believed to improve health. Examples include physical therapy, massage, chiropractic work, Feldenkrais, and reflexology. 
  5. Mind/Body medicine. This discipline uses techniques to help the mind influence the body. They include biofeedback, deep relaxation, guided imagery, hypnotherapy, meditation, prayer, support groups, and yoga.

Traditional medicine is increasingly embracing CAM. Integrative medicine combines standard practices with safe and effective CAM techniques. Universities such as Stanford and Harvard have M.D. programs for integrative medicine as more and more patients seek multiple therapies to address the mental, physical, and spiritual sides of their health. 

Many practitioners were first trained in mainstream medicine but have switched to other modes of treatment. Examples of actual professionals include an anesthesiologist who has transitioned to acupuncture and a physical therapist (PT) who is tired of letting insurers guide her practice — so she now combines Pilates and yoga with more traditional PT treatments. 

For those looking to get the best care regardless of what insurance may dictate, and who are willing to pay out-of-pocket for the privilege, seeking out CAM practitioners can result in the broadest, and perhaps the best, overall care.