Conventional medicine/alternative medicine: choosing the best of both

More than 30% of European adults report using healthcare approaches that are not usually associated with conventional medicine. Doctors are also embracing evidence-based alternative therapies, often combining them with conventional therapies to treat disease and maintain health. This way of combining approaches is called integrative medicine.

What are examples of integrative approaches?

What is considered integrative medicine is constantly changing as treatments are studied and practiced on a daily basis. Several unconventional therapies are beginning to be studied or already recognized by the WHO, such as acupuncture in some cases:

  • Natural products
  • Mind and body practices
  • Other integrative approaches

1) Natural products

Dietary supplements and herbal remedies are considered natural products because they contain ingredients found in nature. Ginseng, ginkgo and echinacea are examples of herbal remedies, glucosamine sulphate, chondroitin and SAMe are examples of dietary supplements. Herbal products and supplements come in many forms, such as teas, oils, syrups, powders, tablets, and capsules.

2) Mind and body practices

Mind-body techniques strengthen the way your mind and body work together. Practitioners believe that these two must be in harmony for you to stay healthy. Examples of mind-body techniques include meditation, prayer, relaxation, yoga, music, and animal-assisted therapy.

3) Techniques of touch, massage, manipulation of the body

Manipulation and body-based practices use human touch to move or manipulate a specific part of your body. They include manipulation, chiropractic or osteopathic massage.

4) Energy medicine

According to some traditions, an invisible energy force flows through your body, and when this flow of energy is blocked or out of balance, you can get sick. This energy goes by different names, such as chi, prana, and life force. The goal of these therapies is to unblock or rebalance your energy force. Energy therapies include acupuncture, qigong, therapeutic touch or shiatsu.

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“Ancestral” approaches

Other approaches to integrative health focus on a system, rather than a single practice or remedy. These systems are centered on an ancestral philosophy, such as the power of nature or the presence of energy in your body. Here are some examples:

1) Ancient healing systems.

These healing systems existed before conventional Western medicine. They include Ayurveda from India and traditional Chinese medicine.

2) Naturopathy.

This approach focuses on non-invasive treatments to help your body heal itself. It involves several practices, such as massage, acupuncture, herbal remedies, exercise, and lifestyle counseling.

What does the research say about integrative medicine?

Research on integrative approaches continues to grow as the use of these treatments becomes more common. Researchers seek to identify therapies that are safe and effective as well as those that provide no benefit and may even cause harm.

In general, research is insufficient because large, carefully controlled medical studies are expensive. Conventional therapy trials are often funded by large corporations that develop and sell drugs. Fewer resources are available to support trials of integrative approaches.

Work with your doctor and therapist

Work with your conventional physician to make informed decisions about integrative medicine and complementary therapy choices. Although your doctor can’t recommend a particular practitioner, they can help you understand the possible risks and benefits before you try an unconventional treatment with your therapist.


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