Alternative and complementary health products and services are very popular in the United States, but I caution my clients that not every treatment has clinical evidence about its effectiveness. Complementary approaches may be nutritional, such as dietary supplements and herbs, physical, such as acupuncture, massage, Reiki, etc., or psychological, such as meditation, hypnosis, or music and relaxation therapies.
Recently my client, Robert, made the decision to consult a naturopath and try acupuncture for his chronic lower back pain. Robert had had back surgery years before, but continued to suffer pain that was sometimes incapacitating. He had seen several doctors and a chiropractor, but nothing really helped.
“I don’t have anything to lose,” he told me during a visit. “My doctor says it’s fine for me to try acupuncture, and who knows, maybe this will work.”
As it happened, Robert did experience some relief after several acupuncture sessions with the naturopath, who also recommended that he take glucosamine chondroitin supplements. Since Robert was taking other prescription medications, he checked with his doctor first before starting the supplements.
Decisions about your health care are important—including decisions about whether or not to use complementary health approaches. With regard to supplements, I always tell my clients that just because the word “natural” is on the label doesn’t automatically mean it’s safe. Some herbs, for instance, can interact with other medications and cause complications. In addition, many supplements are not clinically proven to be effective.
This is not to say that alternative treatments don’t work, but it’s wise to learn as much as possible about them through reputable sources. I recommend the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which provides information and supports research on complementary health practices. Many holistic and integrative practices and treatments have become more accepted by the traditional medical world in recent years. In addition, alternative practices such as energy therapies, homeopathic and naturopathic medicine, Ayurveda, and others can have positive effects and can be used in combination with standard medical care.
We know that mental health impacts physical health, and vice versa. For example, emotional stress can cause headaches, stomach upset, and other physical problems. In Robert’s case, he also discovered that regular meditation helped him cope better with pain. The mind-body connection is real, and has a powerful impact on our well-being at every level.
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