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 ...your complete guide to complementary health

Guide To Alternative Medicine

There are five main complementary therapies Ė acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractic, homeopathy and herbal medicine. The last is discussed in more detail in the Herbal Medicine section but information on the other four can be found here.

In general, complementary medicine focuses on the whole person, identifying lifestyle, environment, diet, and mental, emotional and spiritual health as important as the physical symptoms of the patient. This type of medicine differs from conventional medicine because it also aims to find the root of the symptoms and prevent the problems, as oppose to just offering a cure or relief.

Many alternative therapies are based on an idea that the body naturally strives to maintain a state of balance, known in the medical field as homeostasis. In light of this complementary medicine treatments aim to stimulate the natural healing ability in the body using a range of techniques and medicines, such as massage, heat, and herbs.

These days, complementary therapies are being used alongside conventional medicine in places such as cancer clinics with the aim of enhancing the quality of a patientís life, reducing pain, and relieving stress.

Homeopathy

Homeopathy is the term given to treatment through a 'like with like' process. In a nutshell it involves using tiny doses of substances that can cause signs of illness in a healthy person to treat the same symptoms in a sick patient.

The practice of homeopathy dates back to ancient Greece but was revived by German doctor Samuel Hahnemann at the beginning of the 19th century. According to homeopathic research, a patient's symptoms are used to determine the best remedy for a cure, while certain physical, mental and emotional characteristics may also be taken into consideration to define a patientís type of imbalance.

Homeopathic treatment involves soaking tiny doses of plant, animal or mineral materials in alcohol then diluting to get the medicine. The more a substance is diluted, the stronger its therapeutic effect is believed to be. Homeopathy is said to be effective in treating hay fever, skin disease, colds and flu, high blood pressure, whooping cough, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, and depression.

Acupuncture

A branch of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture involves putting fine needles into selected points on the skin to balance the body's energy (chi) and subsequently treating and preventing disease.

Acupuncture treatment is said to trigger the release of endorphins in the brain, which affect various body systems, such as the digestive system, reduce pain and increase energy levels. Traditionally, it's believed that acupuncture removes blockages and promotes the flow of energy and therefore improves the functioning of internal organs.

This complementary therapy can be used to relieve ailments such as asthma, headaches, menstrual and digestive problems, high blood pressure and pain. More recently it has been used on pregnant women to reduce morning sickness and ease labour.

Osteopathy and Chiropractic

Although classed as separate therapies in the world of complementary medicines, they actually fall under one broader category, known as manipulation. This term is used to cover a range of techniques that use the hands to realign the structural system of the body, as well as relaxing muscles and improving circulation.

Both osteopathy and chiropractic originated in America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Dr Andrew Taylor Still devised osteopathy, which is a specific manipulation technique, to rebalance the framework of the body, improve joint mobility and allow proper function of the internal organs. Lay practitioner Daniel David Palmer developed chiropractic techniques for relaxing the spinal muscles and freeing the body's natural healing energy.

Osteopathy and chiropractic are both good for releasing muscle tension, reducing stiffness in the joints and improving circulation. This means that these therapies are worth considering if you have back pain, neck stiffness and pain, and knee problems. They can also help to relieve some headaches and ear, nose and throat problems.

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