Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More Americans choosing complementary or alternative medicines

Complementary and alternative medicine - CAM - covers many different practices and products that fall into four main categories:

1) Alternative medical systems such as homeopathic medicine, naturopathic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine.

2) Mind-body interventions such as meditation, prayer, biofeedback and hypnosis.

3) Biologically based therapies such as herbs, supplements and aromatherapy.

4) Manipulative and body-based methods such as acupuncture and chiropractic care.

One of the best places to learn about the effectiveness and safety of CAM therapies and products is the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The site, part of the National Institutes of Health, contains a wealth of research-based information on everything from acupuncture, an ancient Chinese healing practice, to St. John's Wort, an herb used to treat depression and anxiety.

Kaufmann said there's a common misperception that all herbal medications are safe. "Herbs are quite often potent pharmaceuticals," she said. Many of them have side effects and risks just like prescription drugs. Peppermint oil, for example, is often taken to relieve abdominal cramps, she said. But a side effect of peppermint is acid reflux, she said.

"People should tell their physician and their pharmacist about any complementary treatments they are using," she said.

Interest is growing in CAM because many people have become disillusioned with the way traditional medicine is practiced, said Dr. Scott Treatman, director of employee health services at Crouse Hospital. He teaches mindful living and stress reduction through SUNY Upstate Medical University and provides acupuncture.

"There's been a bad taste in peoples' mouths when they saw Vioxx and other medications pulled off the market," Treatman said. "Acupuncture has been around 3,000 years and it hasn't been recalled."

Crouse is becoming a leader in what Treatman calls "integrative medicine." Integrative medicine combines treatments from conventional medicine and CAM for which there is evidence of safety and effectiveness.

He said mainstream medicine has become much more accepting of alternative approaches, especially those aimed at reducing stress.

"When you think of all the common diseases we have like migraines, irritable bowel syndrome and high blood pressure, stress is what's making us sick," he said.

Kaufmann teaches mindfulness and meditation to help people with weight problems.

"I kept seeing patients whose major problem could not be helped with traditional medical treatment," she said. "Much disease is caused by behavioral problems like overeating."

Most people pay for CAM out of pocket because health insurance often does not cover these treatments and products. CAM therapies most likely to be covered by insurance include chiropractic, massage therapy and biofeedback.

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