Alternative therapies have become more popular. Half of the world’s population uses alternative medicines annually. They usually exist outside government-backed healthcare systems. So, people pay directly for these services.
Many health professionals incorporate therapies that exist outside of conventional medicine. The following article describes the differences between alternative and western medicines.
What is Western medicine?
Western medicine usually includes a system in which medical professionals manage and treat diseases using conventional, evidence-based practices. These include drugs, surgery, lifestyle changes, or treatment protocols. Over the last 60 years, Western medicine has made huge gains in healthcare. These include:
- A 60% reduction in the death rate from heart disease
- A 75% reduction in the death rate from HIV/AIDS
- A 16% reduction in the death rate from cancer
Western medicine is rooted in
- The fight against infectious diseases;
- Identifying infectious agents
- Delivering effective treatments
These make modern healthcare services increasingly overwhelmed by complex chronic diseases.
Such disorders, which include dementia, diabetes, and obesity, are usually late-onset. And thus, their increase is caused by an aging population. Attempts to develop therapies have been ineffective and expensive. And attention has increasingly been drawn to their prevention.
The rate at which modern medicine is progressing is incredible. You will relax on the sofa and watch TV advertisements for new medicines at an alarming rate. And these new drugs have reduced our death rates for stroke, heart failure, and cancer. As a result of modern medicine, the death rate from heart disease has decreased by 60% since 1970. The death rate of HIV/AIDS had decreased by more than 75% since 1995.
However, western medicine critics are quick to point out that there is a pill for all. Yeah, we’re quick to make more drugs, and yes, we’re living longer because of the drugs. But are we living better?
Medicine has advanced, and today we have doctors that can perform robotic surgery. We have cardiovascular surgeons who can conduct open-heart surgery. We have doctors specialized in specialties such as oncology, cardiology, nephrology, etc.
Critics point out that treatment has evolved to the point that we are treating illness instead of preventing it.
What’s alternative medicine?
The words ‘alternative’ is used to refer to any health intervention outside conventional medication. We can classify these therapies and methods into five domains:
Manipulative and body-based therapies
They focus on the relationship between the body’s structures and manipulations to enhance health. Treatments include reflexology, chiropractic, and massage therapy.
Alternative medical systems
They are health practice systems that have been developed separately from conventional medicine. This includes naturopathy, Chinese medicine, and homeopathy.
Biologically based practices
They use natural materials to influence health, including diet and botanical therapy. The mind-body intervention focuses on the theory that mental factors affect physical health. Examples include hypnosis, meditation, and mindfulness.
It stems from the core belief that energy fields called biofields exist in and around the body. Energy practitioners can manipulate them. For manipulation, they use external sources of energy, such as electromagnetic fields. Examples of therapies include acupuncture, reiki, and magnetic therapy.
It is a therapy used in combination with conventional medicines for the treatment of ill health. Examples include chiropractic, nutritional, and acupuncture treatments.
It is perhaps more accurate to refer to the therapies which fall under these five domains as complementary and alternative medicines (CAM).
Comparing Western Medicine and Alternative Medicine
It is difficult to lump all alternative medicines into one format. Some generalities apply to most alternative medicines.
- Alternative medicines are usually “holistic.” They are applied to the whole person: body/mind/emotion/spirit. In other words, when the disease could manifest itself in one part of the body, an alternative practitioner will be concerned with how other areas of the body were affected by the disease process. Also, alternative medicines try to ease the complications from the mental sources.
- Alternative practitioners are more likely to analyze the whole animal environment. They believe that the individual’s physical and social environment has enormous health implications.
- Western medicine model specifically treats one “agent” as the only source of the illness. Alternative medicines act by attempting to balance patients’ overall body protection and recovery. So, alternative drugs aim to balance the whole body defense systems of the person. And they tend to rely on the innate ability of the individual to heal itself.
- Alternative medicines often work for a person’s “energetics.” Their use is intended to enhance this vital inner force to provide well-being and recovery. An example of this is acupuncture. Here practitioners use the needles to transfer the “chi” of the individual to balance the body’s energies.
Some of how alternative medicines work is difficult, if not impossible, to measure.
- You can feel Chi, for example, and can measure with the correct instrumentation. But it is not a simple entity to set a statistical number. Hence, alternative medicines, the way they work, is difficult to measure using Western medicine methodologies.
- Many alternative medicines use diagnostic and therapeutic methods that are foreign to the Western Practitioner’s system. For example, with acupuncture, arthritis can result from chi blockage across the affected joint. So, the procedure aims at returning the normal flow of Chi through the joint. It is through acupuncture needles and likely diet, exercise, massage, and herbal medicines.
- Alternative medicine practitioners work on curing the disease in its entirety. They claim that Western medicine mostly focuses on suppressing symptoms. But, they should deal with more hidden underlying disease causes.
- Alternative medicine’s approach to measuring success is different from Western medicine’s methods. For example, an individual may be improved clinically after being treated with alternative drugs. But its blood chemistry values may remain abnormal.
- Alternative medicines attempt to work by treating the whole body. So, we often observe unexpected beneficial side effects. For example, if a man is being treated with acupuncture and herbs for a liver disease he would become much less angry and difficult to handle.
The Bottom Line
Always speak to the doctor before you make a decision. Because they’re going to help you make the best choice for you. So they will be able to refer you to a certified and licensed specialist. So, your risk of complications is lower if you have a provider with the appropriate skills and experience.
You should inform both the doctor and complementary provider what treatments you are receiving. Because this is going to help you get the best of both worlds.