The field of medical science is constantly changing. It’s an ongoing cycle of ideas, research and the development of new treatments. Mainstream doctors, as well as the public at large, have traditionally embraced the status quo of using prescription drugs and various treatments to cure disease, or at least to alleviate its symptoms. But a small yet vocal minority of the population puts more stock in alternative medicine than it does in conventional medicine.
Alternative medicine is a very broad term. It is defined as any healing practice that is not accepted by the world of conventional medicine in the Western world. Many (and perhaps most) types of alternative medicine actually predate the techniques that are used today. But because they are not accepted by the majority of the medical community, they are considered alternative.
Practices that fall under the label of alternative medicine include naturopathy, chiropractic, Ayurveda, biofeedback, homeopathy and acupuncture. These techniques may be used on their own, but they are often used to complement conventional medicine. Although some mainstream physicians recommend alternative therapy in certain cases, most tend to distance themselves from it.
Alternative medicine has been hotly debated for many years. Here are some of the pros and cons of alternative treatments:
* Alternative medicine offers hope when conventional medicine fails. When ailments persist despite a doctor’s best efforts, it’s easy to give up hope. But alternative medicine offers an array of options for the patient.
* Alternative treatments are usually less risky than conventional ones. Instead of harsh chemicals, doctors of alternative medicine prescribe herbs and non-drug therapies. While nothing is 100% safe, these gentler techniques are less likely to produce side effects or lay the foundation for new health problems.
* In many cases, alternative medicine is less expensive for those who do not have insurance. This is especially true with medications. Prescription drug prices are often exorbitant, while herbal treatments are relatively inexpensive. Patients can also grow their own herbs, making the cost even lower.
* Alternative medicine is not well regulated. Some of its treatments have been banned, but those that have not are subject to few restrictions. Practitioners can make almost any claim, as long as they specify that the claim hasn’t been approved by regulatory agencies.
* Studies of alternative medicine treatments and techniques are few and far between. These techniques lack the support of major drug companies, because there is no money in it for them. Therefore funding for research is extremely limited. This makes it very difficult to confirm the validity of these treatments.
* Many practitioners of alternative medicine lack proper training. In most cases this isn’t policed, because practitioners in most disciplines are not required by law to have any type of certification.
Alternative medicine has a number of pitfalls, many of which are due to the medical establishment’s refusal to research and regulate the treatments. But many people swear by alternative techniques. Until alternative medicine becomes part of the mainstream, it will continue to be hard to prove or disprove its claims.