What’s your first course of action when you aren’t feeling your best? Do you call the doctor? Take a pill? Wait it out or try to find a way to feel better on your own?
What would your grandmother have done when she was sick? Or your great-grandmother or your great-great-grandmother?
There have been solutions to health problems since long before Western medicine was born.
In Western society, conventional medicine is the most commonly practiced medicine. Doctors are trained to use clinical knowledge and judgment to decide how they treat an ailment or illness. These can include tests, treatments, drugs or surgery.
But there are other methods that can be beneficial, too. These alternative or complementary practices include acupuncture, massage and chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation. Sometimes doctors suggest these types of therapies along with medication and rest.
You may also be interested in alternative medicine products like herbs, oils or probiotics. However, some of these can interact with medicine or cause complications during surgery.
You should always talk with your doctor about any supplements or oils you are using or considering. And don’t forget to mention over-the-counter drugs and your prescription drugs to help your doctor make sure you get coordinated, safe care.
So what are some alternative or complementary therapies?
In the practice of traditional Chinese medicine, the belief is that when a person’s inner balance is disturbed, it can cause sickness. Treatment to restore the “yin” and the “yang” often involves combining herbal remedies with acupuncture and/or acupressure.
This practice is based on the principle of “like cures like.” The idea is that to cure symptoms, you can deliver a solution that brings on that symptom in someone who was healthy.
Like vaccines, homeopathy gives a diluted amount of a substance to help the body heal. Unlike conventional medicine, homeopathy offers remedies only for short-term use.
Herbalism is a medical practice using plants and plant extracts. Many modern prescription drugs got their start from plants that have long been used as herbal remedies.
For treatments that involve herbal supplements and products, consumers should know about some concerns. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not test herbal products for effectiveness or approve them.
It is unknown if many of these herbal products are safe. In fact, some herbal products can cause dangerous side effects in people with specific health problems. And some supplements can cause problems when mixed with other drugs:
- Kelp taken with thyroid medication may cause an overactive thyroid.
- Chamomile can cause allergic reactions in people with ragweed allergies.
- Echinacea may cause asthma attacks in some people with asthma.
- Ginkgo, ginger and ginseng can be unsafe when taken with blood thinners.
And what about aromatherapy? Lately, essential oils are having a boost of popularity. In fact, the essential oil business was worth more than $5 billion in 2014.
Can using oils from flowers, herbs and other plants treat medical conditions? While data doesn’t support that these oils can spur healing or prevent illness, there may be some evidence that a few oils can be beneficial. For example, lavender, geranium and hiba oils could temporarily lower anxiety.
Keep in mind that although many of the oils are marketed as “natural,” they may not be safe, especially for children.
The oils, which are often sold in very high concentration, can cause harm if too much is used on children. Children’s skin is thinner and can absorb too much of the oil. Children may also try to swallow the oils.
In fact, the U.S. has seen an increase of calls to poison control centers about oil-related poisonings. In particular, care should be taken when using camphor, clove, tea tree, wintergreen, thyme and lavender oils.
Clearly, there are many choices when it comes to care, but the right choice for you might not be so clear. Before trying any alternative option, talk with your doctor to help avoid harmful interactions.
Alternative options may not be covered under your plan. Call the customer service number on the back of your member ID card to find out before you plan a visit or treatment.
Sources: 1000 Cures for 200 Ailments, Dr. Victor Sierpina, 2007; The Snake Oil Science, R. Barker Bausell, 2007; Aromatherapy, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2014; More Children Accidently Poisoned by 'Essential Oils', HealthDay, May 13, 2016; Essential Oil Market Poised to Ascend From US$ 5.50 Bn in 2014 to US$ 9.8 Bn Globally by 2020, Nasdaq, GlobeNewswire.com, Dec. 9, 2015; What Are the Health Benefits of Ginger Tea? and Foods with Healing Power: The Benefits of Garlic, Healthline.com, 2016