Alternative Health Care: Holistic Medicine

Explore the alternative health care options with holistic medicine and choose what is right for you.

| June/July 2004

  • Holistic Medicine
    Naturopaths have a Western scientific understanding of the body, and treat illness with a combination of diet changes, hot baths, and medicinal herbs or herb-derived drugs.
    Photo courtesy Fotolia/olya_dn

  • Holistic Medicine

Thirty years ago, conventional and complementary health practitioners were calling each other nasty names and dismissing each other's treatments as useless or dangerous. These days, many complementary health care practitioners are willing to admit that for emergency medicine, conventional treatments usually are the best option. Meanwhile, conventional doctors are embracing diet changes, exercise and stress management as valuable complements to medical care and are more willing to accept other holistic therapies as valid treatments. Because of this growing acceptance, many people are finding they don't have to choose between complementary or conventional medicine, but can have the best of both.

So where should you turn for your health care needs? The truth is that most medical treatment begins in the same place. Think of health care as a ladder, with each rung representing another option. The first rung should be self-care, when you decide whether the aspirin — or willow bark — in your medicine cabinet will be enough to make you feel better, or if you might have a more serious problem.

If self-care doesn't provide sufficient relief, the next rung should be conventional medicine, which is usually best for diagnosing serious conditions. Initially, that's what you need: a clear idea of how minor, or major, your problem is. If it's serious, you need to get that information as soon as possible so you can begin treating the problem. If it's minor, then you're free to decide which steps on up the ladder to take: conventional, complementary or a combination of the two.

Many people feel most comfortable with conventional medicine, which certainly is successful at treating many health problems. But even if you decide to go this route, it's important to take an active interest in your medical care. Doctors have embraced many lifestyle treatments, but they still usually rely on drugs and surgery, both of which carry their own risks. Before accepting any prescription, be sure you understand all of the drug's possible side effects. Ask your doctor, and then ask the pharmacist who fills your prescription. You also might check a consumer health Web site, such as Before opting for surgery, get more than one opinion.

If you're new to complementary therapies, you'll find any number of reasons to consider giving them a try. For some conditions, herbal medicines can have the same result as a conventional prescription, but with fewer side effects. Holistic treatments also can be an especially good choice for treating stress-related diseases, as well as for managing chronic pain.

Traditional Treatments  

Scientists have been paying more attention to holistic medicine recently, but these treatments aren't exactly breaking news. Many have a long history of use, and are still being practiced around the world. Three of the most widely available forms of holistic medicine in the United States are herbalism, naturopathy and Chinese medicine, all traditional treatments.



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