The term "alternative" medicine is a far-reaching one that describes a number of health and healing methods. Generally, when using "alternative" you are talking about medicinal and general health practices, products, etc. that are not a part of society's conventional medical systems. Sometimes referred to as "complementary" medicine when used in addition to, as opposed to instead of, conventional systems, the term can cover everything from folk medicine to faith healing to therapeutic massage. In other words, if you can't learn it in medical schools or get it in conventional hospitals, it's considered "alternative."
Because so many different approaches to health and wellness are lumped under the alternative heading, it can be difficult to decide whether or not to take any of them seriously. Fad diets, homeopathy, acupuncture, herbology, yoga, probiotics and new age healing are just a few of the choices that fall under alternative medicine. But how are you supposed to know what is real from what is quackery?
There are many sources that attempt to back alternative medicine practices with scientific study. A quick search through the library or Internet will result in lots of studies and first-hand experiences that prove or disprove the worth of just about any alternative method you can name. Ask friends and family if they have tried a particular treatment or practice, you'll be surprised how many people go outside of conventional medicine for alternate therapies. Many of us already use alternative medicine without even realizing it.
Remember when grandma insisted on her special chicken soup when you were sick, or a friend recommended an egg yolk mask for acne just because that's what her mom did?
Those are great examples of alternative medicine, and there's plenty of research out there that shows them to have real world value. Chicken soup is easy to eat when you're sick and provides necessary hydration, vitamins, minerals, and protein to help you recover. The high protein in egg yolks soothes and enriches the skin, as it dries it pulls out impurities, and all without adding oils or over drying. Just because a medical doctor didn't proscribe them doesn't necessarily mean they don't work.
Some alternative medicines have become more accepted by the conventional medical community. Acupuncture, part of traditional Chinese medicine, has been practiced for thousands of years and is considered conventional in many Asian countries. However, acupuncture is accepted only for pain management in the US. Acupuncturists claim it can help everything from weight loss to infertility, but this has not been definitively proven in scientific study. Practitioners in the US are highly trained and must get a license before treating patients. Licenses aren't infallible, but it does lend extra assurance that a professional with high standards is treating you. Further proof of acceptance is that many insurance companies will cover treatment by a licensed acupuncturist.
It is still important to take care when choosing to use alternative medicine. Be sure and do your homework. While it may not hurt to put egg on your face, taking herbs without knowing how they may interact with other medicines or knowing proper dosages can cause serious problems. Going to an unlicensed practitioner for something like acupuncture can result in serious injury. You should consult with your present health practitioner to discuss the alternative medicines you are considering. Be sure to weigh the risks and benefits carefully before trying anything new. Always let each health professional know all of your medical history and present practices.
Many people find great results from alternative and complementary medicine. When you explore these "new" options, you may find that there are centuries old ways to take care of your body and mind that have been overlooked by today's western medicine. Careful research and a mindful approach can help you achieve a better lifestyle and enjoy good health.