Acupuncture, a part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. It involves the insertion of very thin needles into specific points of the body, along certain pathways (meridians) to balance the energy flow in that area. It is believed that poor health, including physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, is caused by an imbalance of yin and yang, which leads to a blockage in the flow of qi – the energy that circulates through the meridians. Yin, which represents the passive principle, and yang, which represents the active principle, are opposite forces that form a whole.
Acupuncture is used to treat many diseases and conditions, either by itself or with other treatments. Its popularity has grown significantly within the U.S. over the past 30 years. There are a number of different styles of acupuncture, including some that may not use actual needles. Complications are highly unusual if done by a qualified practitioner.
The main idea behind this type of treatment, also known as homeopathy, is the Law of Similars, or "like cures like". It was developed in the late 18th century by Samuel Christian Hahnemann, a German physician. It is believed that giving minute doses of highly diluted substances from plants, minerals or animals can stimulate the body to heal itself – small doses can cure the symptoms that large doses would cause.
It has been practiced in the U.S. since the early 1800s, and is used to treat a number of conditions. Treatments are "individualized" to each person, based on different factors like body type, genetic and personal health history, and current physical and mental symptoms. Homeopathy is generally considered safe when taken under the supervision of a trained professional.
Herbal remedies, also called botanical medicine, is becoming quite popular as an alternative to drugs because they often have fewer side effects. An herb is a plant part (leaves, flowers, berries, bark, roots and/or seeds) that is used internally and externally to improve health and treat a variety of conditions. Herbs are sold as fresh or dried plant material, powders, teas, capsules, tablets and extracts.
Herbs have been used medicinally long before recorded history, and nearly one-third of Americans use them today. Much research has been done, with many herbs showing positive results. They are easily accessible, and many people grow their own. Herbal products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it is important to buy from a reputable source. It is best to consult a health care provider before using, especially if you are giving to a young child, are pregnant or breastfeeding, have a medical condition or are taking medications.
Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils for physical and psychological well-being. The oil is distilled from plant material using steam, water or both. Most oils are highly concentrated, so only small amounts are needed. They may be administered through inhalation, massage, compresses and baths. Many oils have to be diluted with a carrier oil before applying to the skin. Some oils can be taken internally, but this can be dangerous if not done under the supervision of a qualified specialist.
Essential oils have been used for nearly 6,000 years, but have not become popular in the U.S. until the 1980s. You can buy online and at most health food stores, but like herbs, it is best to consult a health care provider before using. Buy from a reputable source and avoid products that contain synthetic chemicals, which do not provide the therapeutic benefits of essential oils.
Other Kinds of Natural Treatments
Chiropractic – Manipulation of the spine and other body structures to correct alignment problems, improve function, alleviate pain and support the body's natural ability to heal itself.
Rolfing – A form of deep-tissue bodywork used to reorganize a person's whole body.
Reflexology – Applying pressure to reflex zones on the feet, hands or ears which benefit other parts of the body, or improve general health.
Massage Therapy – Using the hands, fingers, forearms, elbows or feet to manipulate muscles and other soft tissues of the body.
Therapeutic Touch – A form of energy medicine in which a practitioner uses his or her hands on or near a patient's body to break up energy blockages to promote health and healing.
Biofeedback – Using electronic monitoring to train a person to acquire voluntary control of a bodily function. This treatment is often used to treat urinary incontinence.
Hydrotherapy – Internal and external use of water to maintain and restore health. There are many types of treatments such as hot or cold compresses, sitz baths, mud baths, seaweed baths, whirlpool baths, steam baths and colonic irrigation.
Meditation – A type of mind-body medicine in which a person learns to focus attention for better health and well-being.
Dietary Supplements – Taking nutritional supplements like vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and fiber to help in the prevention and treatment of diseases (for instance, taking fish oil and niacin to help lower cholesterol).
Home Remedies – Treating an ailment or disease with foods, spices or other common items found in the home. One well known remedy is chicken soup for a cold. Another example is duct tape, which some people use to get rid of warts.
The above are only some of the many types of alternative medicine. Others include art, dance, music, color, humor and light therapies, apitherapy, prayer, hypnosis, yoga, guided imagery, magnets and so much more.
If you have a medical condition, all treatments should be discussed with your health care provider.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Acupuncture: An Introduction – https://nccam.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction.htm
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Homeopathy: An Introduction – https://nccam.nih.gov/health/homeopathy/
University of Maryland Medical Center: Herbal medicine – https://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/herbal-medicine-000351.htm
University of Maryland Medical Center: Aromatherapy – https://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/aromatherapy-000347.htm
Acupuncture by hyattacu8 / Flickr
Homeopathic medication by ahasc / Flickr
Essential oil by atyourfeetllc / Flickr
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