There are many different alternative medical approaches, and these may come from indigenous or localized cultures. Using the materials at hand, and making the most of resources that are available has allowed local populations to develop sophisticated approaches to treating disorders that occur in their populations. These traditions have developed over thousands of years.
Alternative medicine is sometimes called “complementary medicine” because of their capability to be used along with traditional medicine. CAM (or complementary and alternative medicine) may have been used for centuries, but because the western scientific model has not been around as long, there are many complementary and alternative medical practices which have not been through the scientific process. Just because these therapies have not been tested and approved by a scientific community, they are no less valid; in fact, the proof is in their results! The people who have experienced their effects have benefited from these alternative therapies, and may represent a very large sample size compared to an average regulatory test! In an effort to better integrate alternative medicine into the western therapeutic model, the National Institutes of Health established a testing body (NCCAM) in 1999, and has funded over 2,500 projects to learn about CAM therapies, their effectiveness, and how they work.
Alternative medicine can encompass anything from vitamins to acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and mind-body therapy. Also popular is the Chinese traditional medicine, which can include therapies refined from food products. In 2007, the National Institutes of Health conducted a survey and one of the questions they asked was how often participants utilized alternative medicine or complementary therapies. Of those surveyed, thirty-eight percent of adults had utilized some kind of traditional therapy the prior year. An additional twelve percent of children had used alternative medicine in that same timeframe. The business of alternative medicine is driven by consumer-spending, and in the 2007 NIH survey it was estimated that American adults and children spent approximately $33.9 billion on out-of-pocket alternative medical expenses.
Sometimes the measured outcomes of alternative medicine are surprising. For instance, the common wisdom that Gingko Biloba helps to slow dementia was disproven in a broad-population trial. However, the benefits of tai chi to fibromyalgia patients, chiropractic adjustment to back pain sufferers, and even mental control for pain management have all been proven to be at least as effective as western medicine counterparts!
While it’s important to remember that many alternative dietary supplements are untested, and therefore carry an amount of risk, the benefits can outweigh the cost and dangers of treatment. Unlike traditional Western medicine, the risk of significant impacts from undertaking an alternative medical treatment can be very low. Look forward to reports of more studies and empirical research regarding the effectiveness of alternative medicine on various populations, but in the meantime, there are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of alternative medicine’s effectiveness the anatomy!
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