Alternative medicine refers to treatments and wellness approaches that fall outside conventional western medicine. We consider complementary medicine a related field, using non-mainstream practices alongside standard medical care. With so many people expanding their healthcare options beyond traditional medicine, it’s important to take an in-depth look at the pros and cons of alternative practices.
Defining Alternative Medicine
Alternative medicine encompasses a wide and diverse range of healing philosophies, therapies and products that typically aren’t taught in medical schools or used in hospitals. Some major categories of alternative medicine include:
- Acupuncture – Insertion of very thin needles into specific body points to relieve pain and support well-being.
- Herbal Medicine – Using plant-based compounds for their therapeutic benefits.
- Homeopathy – Using highly diluted preparations of substances to trigger the body’s self-healing response.
- Chiropractic – Spinal manipulation and massage to correct alignment and improve neuromuscular health.
- Meditation and Yoga – Mind-body practices for relaxation, stress relief and self-healing.
- Dietary Supplements – Vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, amino acids, and other nutritional substances.
- Biofeedback – Using monitoring devices to gain voluntary control over involuntary bodily processes.
- Reiki and Energy Healing – Channeling energy via a practitioner’s hands to facilitate healing.
- Ayurvedic Medicine – Traditional medicine native to India using holistic practices.
- Naturopathy – Supporting the body’s own healing abilities through natural treatments.
Other less common alternatives include healing touch, hypnotherapy, aromatherapy, chelation and more. Use of these non-mainstream modalities is on the rise.
Surveying the Benefits
Why are so many people turning to alternative medicine? There are a range of potential benefits that attract those seeking more holistic and natural treatment options:
- Whole Person Focus – Alternative medicine sees the body, mind, and spirit as interconnected. Practices address overall well-being, not just isolated symptoms.
- Preventive Care – Many alternative options favor prevention through healthy lifestyle choices and conservative use of more invasive treatments.
- Individualized Plans – Care plans are tailored to each person versus a one-size-fits-all approach.
- Lower Costs – Some alternative options cost less than expensive drugs, surgeries and hospital stays. Herbs, supplements, meditation, and self-care techniques are incredibly low cost.
- Safer Choices – Alternative treatments often have fewer and less severe side effects compared to pharmaceutical drugs and medical procedures.
While alternative medicine can be cost-effective and relatively low risk, results are not guaranteed or proven. Still, millions of patients find value in expanding their care options.
Examining the Disadvantages
Despite potential advantages, there are good reasons to carefully evaluate the risks involved with alternative medicine:
- Limited Evidence – Rigorous scientific evidence and clinical trials are lacking for many alternative options to confirm their effectiveness and long-term safety.
- Regulation Issues – Herbal products, supplements and alternative modalities often aren’t regulated for quality or potency standards. Safety risks may be present.
- Interactions – Some herbs, supplements and therapies can interact with medications or counteract their effects without a physician’s oversight.
- Delaying Treatment – Pursuing unproven alternative options instead of conventional care shown to work may allow conditions to progress.
- Lack of Insurance Coverage – Alternative medicine expenses often fall outside the realm of covered services, leaving patients to pay all costs out-of-pocket.
The Future of Alternative Medicine
What does the future hold for alternative practices? They will likely continue growing in popularity. Medical coding used for billing and insurance reimbursement will need to evolve to encompass more non-traditional services, according to the experts at Find-A-Code.com. More insurers now cover select alternative options like acupuncture, chiropractic, and homeopathic remedies.
While alternatives shouldn’t replace treatments that medical evidence clearly shows to be effective, they will play an increasing role supporting well-being. With knowledge and prudent discernment, alternative medicine can complement traditional care for those wanting to explore it.