When you find yourself having regular migraines or coming down with the flu, it’s probably your local urgent care center or family physician that you think of seeing first, right? Not if you’re into alternative therapies! Alternative therapies include things like natural health remedies, holistic homeopathy, and Ayurvedic practices from the far east. Essentially, anything that’s used to improve your health that’s not part of Western mainstream medical practice can be considered alternative.
With all the options out there, however, how do you know which one is right for you? Even more important, how do you know which will work and which won’t? The last thing you want is to spend hundreds–or even thousands–and not feel a single bit better. Fortunately, we’re taking this opportunity to share everything you need to know about alternative therapies. Prepare to be surprised–you might even find yourself searching for a local holistic health practitioner by the time we’re finished!
What on Earth Is an Alternative Therapy?
As we mentioned earlier, alternative therapy is just a fancy catch-all phrase used to describe alternative medicine. That is, any medicinal practices that aren’t under the auspices of modern, traditional medicine. Essentially, it’s an alternative system of medicine, and there are typically several groups of people who tend to find their way to these kinds of practices:
- Highly educated, often upper-middle class individuals who become frustrated by the commercialism and sometimes blatant disregard for patients over profits in the modern medical world
- People who suffer from chronic pain or illness, who have been unable to find relief in traditional settings
- People who have been hurt (or seen others suffer) by significant side effects or poor medical practices
- Individuals looking for a less “sterilized” and “chemical” way of healing their bodies
Obviously, it’s not just these four groups of people who gravitate towards alternative therapies; in fact, as many as 40% of all Americans claim to use alternative treatments. In fact, you probably have a friend who visits a naturopath, and maybe another friend who regularly hits up the supplement aisle at her local Whole Foods, looking for natural ways to deal with ailments such as insomnia or joint pain.
As doctors increasingly deal with setbacks like antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the opioid epidemic, even the medical community has begun to look to ancient healing practices to find relief.
Ultimately, alternative therapy is:
- A loose group of powerful practices and philosophies that often take years to master and understand
- A focus on the whole person, including the mind, body, spirit, and heart
- A focus on the underlying problem, not just the symptom
- A way to prevent major diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke
Here’s what alternative therapy is NOT:
- A quick fix (while relief is often immediate, full healing can take a very long time)
- A trendy practice to try and then discard when you move on to the next thing
- An alternative to serious conditions, such as chemotherapy (you should always inform your doctor of whatever alternative therapies your using, and you should never eschew recommended surgery or treatment for major conditions or diseases in favor of alternative treatments without your doctor’s approval)
The Alternative Therapies You Need to Know
Whether you’re experiencing pain and you need solutions or you just want to know what your friends are talking about when they say they’re visiting a naturopath, we’re listing some of the top alternative therapies and alternative cures right here:
1. Chiropractic Care
Admittedly, chiropractors are probably the least alternative of all the alternative therapies, and there are some who certainly plying their trade quite traditionally. In these cases, chiropractic care would be considered complementary care rather than alternative care since it’s conducted in conjunction with traditional medical intervention.
In fact, however, most chiropractors take great care in providing a drug-free, all-natural approach to a patient’s health. They don’t just help to heal musculoskeletal injuries; by realigning the nervous system (which controls every single part of the body), chiropractors can help the body heal itself from issues such as ear infections, arthritis, foggy mental state (or lack of clarity), constipation, asthma, high or low blood pressure, and many more.
Reflexology might be the most fun treatment on this list, and that’s because it involves everyone’s favorite: a massage! The idea behind reflexology is that applying gentle pressure to certain parts of the body can cause other parts of the body to respond. For example, pressing certain parts of the sole of your foot can increase blood supply to and the function of your stomach.
There hasn’t been much science to prove that there are connections, but it is well documented that reflexology can help tremendously with stress. The National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute have found that the practice can even reduce pain and psychological symptoms (depression, for example) and help you relax and sleep better. For somebody under a tremendous amount of stress–or in palliative care–reflexology can be a godsend.
It’s also purported to bring relief to conditions as diverse as diabetes and asthma. Again, there’s no hard proof yet, but since reflexology feels great and is safe, why not?
Homeopathy is an alternative medicine created in the late 1700s by a German physician on the principle that “like cures like.” Quite by accident, Samuel Hahnemann found that consuming toxic levels of an herb that gave people malaria-like symptoms cured his malaria. Since then, homeopathy has become widely used in such places as Germany, India, and Pakistan. It’s less popular in the United States and seems to love to stir up controversy.
At its core, homeopathy aligns with other holistic and alternative therapies in that it seeks to provide very individualized care based on the patient’s entire well-being. In fact, care is so individualized that two people with the same symptoms might not be treated the same way!
Homeopathy can take years to fully understand and use; in the meantime, you can work with a homeopath. Some are licensed medical professionals who can diagnose and treat while others are not licensed and are under strict rules about providing consults on your health only.
Despite its detractors, homeopathic patients love the therapy’s cost-effective treatments and report benefits ranging from fever reduction and flu prevention to bone knitting and cavity healing.
Acupuncture is probably the weirdest alternative therapy on this list. It’s the ancient Chinese practice of stimulating parts of the body by inserting very tiny needles into the skin. While this sounds like it would hurt, it doesn’t! In fact, acupuncture is most often used in the West to treat pain and can be quite effective at that.
That’s not all acupuncture can be used for, however. Other benefits include reduction of problems like anxiety, inflammation in the body, depression, and insomnia. It’s reported that millions of Americans use acupuncture regularly now, so if you’re not using it there’s a good chance you have a friend who is!
Our final alternative therapy today, naturopathy is a type of alternative therapy founded on the “healing power of nature.” Naturopathic doctors (often called naturopaths), similarly to homeopaths and other holistic therapists, seek to understand how the whole person works together and will consider things like emotional health and spiritual well-being when working with you.
Naturopaths use a variety of alternative therapies (including acupuncture, homeopathy, and alternative herbal medicines), but they also help to promote lifestyle and diet changes to allow their patients to function at their healthiest levels. Their emphasis is ultimately on preventing disease and helping the body heal itself through non-invasive and natural methods.
If you visit a naturopath, you’ll probably enjoy a long appointment time where you’ll be asked many questions about a variety of topics. Your naturopath is seeking to know you as a person, and not just the symptom you’re coming to her with. When you leave, you’ll probably have a suggested plan for lifestyle changes that will help you give your body the care it deserves.
Which Will You Try?
Between chiropractic care, reflexology, acupuncture, homeopathy, and naturopathy, we’ve only just scratched the surface of alternative therapies! There are so many more to learn from and about, including Chinese Traditional Medicine (CTM), Ayurveda, aromatherapy, biofeedback, hydrotherapy, and so many more.
Frankly, the variety of options is thrilling and relieving at the same time; with so many treatments and alternative therapists available to help you find your way to health, there’s no reason you can’t find a system that works for you, your personality, and your preferences. The only question is which alternative therapy will you try first?