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Dr. Minocha is a practicing gastroenterologist and author of "Natural Stomach Care: Treating and Preventing Digestive Disorders with Best of Eastern and Western Therapies".
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Over 40% of American take some form of complementary or alternative medicine. However, only about half of those people actually tell their physician. Approximately 27 billion dollars are spent each year on alternative medicine in the U.S. alone, and there is no sign of it slowing down.
Responding to this explosive growth in a largely unregulated industry, the U.S. Congress created the National Center of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine with an annual budget of $70 million to investigate the efficacy of alternative therapies. Most people rank mainstream medicine higher than alternative medicine for most ailments but often complement their mainstream therapy for chronic pains, stress, sleeplessness and "increasing energy levels" with alternative medicine.
Also keep in mind that some remedies are contraindicated by modern medicine; for example, alternative medicine practitioners often recommend peppermint as a digestive remedy but the mint may trigger a problem with heartburn. Some herbs may increase your tendency to bleed, which may become a significant problem if you are going to surgery.
Most herbs and minerals are exempt from FDA regulation, stemming from the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. Pharmaceutical companies must prove to the Food and Drugs Administration that a new drug is not only safe but also efficacious before they are allowed to market the product. However, this is not true in the case of herbal medicines. The burden of proof is on the government: the FDA has to prove that the herbal remedy is dangerous, before it can be taken off the market.
Even though regulated differently from mainstream medicine, do not forget that herbal remedies are also drugs. Always talk to your physician if you are planning to take them or are already taking them. Doctors rely upon Physician’s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicine, for information about herbs. A recent survey suggested that only 5% of physicians strongly disapprove of such remedies.
Some popular herbal remedies include ginger, bitters, gentian root, goldenseal, aromatics, ginseng, and anise. Ginger is perhaps the most popular folk remedy in many cultures. It is given in a variety of forms, including tea for coughs and colds. Ginger is said to absorb stomach acid and soothe the nerves.
Ayurveda utilizes a multidimensional therapeutic approach to bring about internal balance. This system of medicine is over five thousand years old and is based on ancient Hindu Vedic literature. It focuses on readjusting all of the body systems as opposed to a pharmacotherapeutic approach that targets specific organs. Thus Ayurveda treats the whole person rather than looking at various medical problems as disparate diseases.
The medications used in Ayurveda are exclusively herbal and free of animal products except milk. However, herbs form only one component of the therapy. They are used to decrease internal heat, and must be supplemented with dietary regimen, activity/exercise, life style changes, and mental attitude readjustment.
Homeopathy was the brainchild of a German physician Samuel Hahnemann, who quit the practice of medicine but continued experimenting with herbs. Homeopathy proponents use extremely diluted quantities of herbs as medicines. While their clinical utility is questionable, these natural substances are so diluted that they are unlikely to do any harm.
Acupressure involves massage and external touching without inserting needles into the body. Acupressure is an ancient Chinese art of medicine that divides the body into twelve major meridians and a set of eight extraordinary channels. Various tissues and organs are represented at different sites. The key is to define those points and use pressure for therapy.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of needles into specific areas of the body in order to alleviate pain. Scientists believe acupuncture may work by stimulating nerves to release neurochemicals, that act as natural painkillers. Acupuncture is becoming increasingly accepted by Western society, including many Western physicians. Even some HMOs nationwide cover acupuncture treatments.
Not all acupuncture practitioners are physicians. An estimated 38 states license non-medical doctors to perform acupuncture procedures after they have undergone about 2,500 hours of training at a licensed acupuncture school in the U.S.
Risks of acupuncture include fainting, dizziness, puncture of an internal organ, transmission of infectious disease, spinal cord injury etc.
Hydrotherapy utilizes water treatments for various ailments. For example, activated charcoal in water is recommended as a treatment for indigestion.
Aromatherapy utilizes essential oils and their aroma for a variety of diseases and for stress reduction. For example, you can buy bottled scents of rose or lavender and breathe in when stressed. Try taking a whiff before going to a stressful meeting.
Many chiropractors believe that they can fix not just muscular-skeletal problems and chronic pain syndromes but also digestive ailments using chiropractic adjustments.
Yoga involves various exercises, which can help with relaxation and may also assist with digestion. Yoga also provides relaxation breathing and focusing techniques that are helpful in stress reduction.
Reflexologists believe that different parts of the feet are connected to specific tissues and organs of the body. Working on a particular spot is believed to help bring normalcy to that particular organ and heal the ailment.
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