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What is Complementary Medicine?

Health & Wellness
May 07, 2021

What is Complementary Medicine?

It seems like complementary medicine has redefined the standard of care as more and more people turn to herbal medicine, nutritional supplements, homeopathic remedies, Reiki and acupuncture, among others, to combat illness and improve their overall health. If you're on the verge of exploring these natural health modalities and others that work holistically on the mind, body and spirit, let this article guide you through the process.

What's the Fuss Over Complementary Medicine?

Complementary medicine is an umbrella term for various healing systems and practices that are not part of conventional medicine but used as an adjunct therapy to prevent and treat illnesses. Because it's used in conjunction with standard medical care, complementary medicine should not be used interchangeably with alternative medicine, which refers to treatment methods used in lieu of standard medicine.

Although used alongside mainstream medical treatments, many types of complementary therapies are practised as preventive health measures such as yoga, Tai Chi, qigong, massage therapy and meditation. You don't have to be in pain or suffering from the adverse reaction of a medical procedure, such as chemotherapy or radiation, to benefit from such therapies. In fact, making them part of your daily routine reduces the likelihood of developing health conditions that require hospitalisation. 

Complementary therapies identify the underlying cause of disease rather than just treat its symptoms. That means, if you walk into a naturopath's office with an upset stomach, the latter will look at the state of your emotions, mind, body, spirit and even ask about your home and work environment to determine the real cause of your pain. This process enables the health practitioner to address the imbalances in your system and support your body's innate ability to heal itself.

The concept of using the body's natural healing mechanism to get rid of illness is empowering for millions of people who are tired of the temporary remission provided by conventional treatments and their harmful side effects. 

What are the Benefits of Complementary Medicine?

According to the Better Health Channel, about two thirds of the people in Australia use complementary therapies to manage their medical conditions, function better and regain control of their health. Several studies on cancer treatments have also provided evidence on the positive impact of different complementary therapies on the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of cancer treatments. In fact, the Breastcancer.org reported that 80% of breast cancer survivors have used at least one form of complementary medicine to alleviate pain, nausea, fatigue, headache and muscle tension.

Complementary medicine has also been shown to be effective in treating several other physical, mental and emotional conditions, including:

  • AsthmaComplementary medicine for fears & phobias
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive issues
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Fears and phobia
  • Trauma
  • Incontinence
  • Allergies
  • Epilepsy and other neurological disorders
  • Musculoskeletal problems

What are the Different Types of Complementary Medicine?

The modalities used in complementary medicine are divided into five categories but they all share a single objective: to treat the mind, body, emotions and spirit as an integrated whole. We list them below as well as the techniques used in each group.

Mind-Body Practices

Alexander technique as a complementary medicineMind-body interventions cultivate the power of the subconscious and higher self to influence physical health. It involves mindful movements and focused breathing exercises that are carried out synchronously to relax the mind and calm the nerves.

Yoga, meditation, hypnotherapy, biofeedback, Pilates, tai chi, qigong, Alexander technique and the Feldenkrais Method are examples of complementary health approaches under the mind-body category that can help manage stress response, regulate heart rate, shift negative thoughts and emotions, and improve posture and flexibility.

Biologically-based Therapies

Flower essences as complementary medicineThis category includes diet and dietary supplements, probiotics, herbal remedies, and other natural products that support the body's detoxification process. Complementary health practitioners believe that many diseases stem from vitamin deficiency and exposure to toxins like heavy metals. Plant-derived remedies can help address a wide range of conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis, digestive problems, arthritis, depression and poor circulation, among others.

Aromatherapy, herbalism, flower essences and naturopathy are some types of therapy that fall into this category.

Manipulative Techniques

Reflexology as complementary medicineModalities under this complementary medicine group employ a variety of manual techniques to relieve pain, restore posture and improve the function of the nervous system. Chiropractic, massage therapy, reflexology and osteopathy are examples of body-based practices that work on the joints, muscles and skeletal system of the body to restore homeostasis. Several studies have shown that when the body has a stable internal environment, it can regulate its chemical activities and keep disease at bay.

Energy-Based Healing

Reiki as complementary medicineEnergy healing works on the biofield or aura that surrounds the body. Natural health professionals who specialise in this type of therapy use their bodies as a vessel to transmit universal life force to their clients to improve their health and wellbeing.

Pranic healing, Reiki, acupuncture, qigong, Touch for Health, crystal therapy, sound therapy, and Emotional Freedom Technique are all examples of energy-based healing modalities. Several studies also bear scientific evidence to prove that stimulating the energy points in the body eliminates energy blockages that cause physical, mental and emotional health problems.   

Whole Medical Systems

Ayurveda as complementary medicineSome therapeutic techniques are considered as complete healing systems as they employ multiple disciplines for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease. Ayurveda is one of them as this holistic medicine, which dates back 4,000 years in India, has a precise way of identifying and treating the main cause of illness. It uses diet, herbs, meditation and yoga to balance the mind, body and spirit.   

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is another ancient healing system that is rooted in the concept of balancing the body's yin and yang forces in order to improve the flow of qi. In English, qi is translated as life force which makes everything move and grow. Without it, every living creature will cease to live. Acupuncture is a branch of TCM that stimulates the acupoints on the body to clear the obstructions in its energy pathways that cause pain and discomfort. 

Other therapeutic techniques that are accepted as whole medical systems are homoeopathy and naturopathy. The first is based on the concept that natural substances causing symptoms of an illness in a healthy person can cure the same illness when diluted several times. The second complementary technique employs different modalities to assist the body in restoring its natural ability to self-heal. Some of the modalities that are used in naturopathy include herbal remedies, iridology, nutritional counselling, flower essences and massage therapy.

Is Complementary Medicine Accepted by the Medical Profession?

Many medical doctors have long incorporated specific types of complementary therapies into their general practice to boost patient outcomes. For them, using integrative health approaches that are supported by scientific studies will not only eliminate the symptoms of the patient but restore their health and guarantee them of a long, happy life.

An integrative health physician takes into account the physical, mental, emotional, social and environmental aspects of a patient in order to determine which treatment plan will work best for them.

Want to know how complementary medicine can boost your health and wellbeing? You can get in touch with the best complementary health practitioners in your area through the Natural Therapy pages.

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FAQs About Complementary Medicine

What is complementary medicine used for?

Complementary medicine can help with a wide range of health conditions that affect the mind, body and spirit. Many natural therapies are also used to reduce the side effects of cancer treatments like nausea, pain and anxiety.

What are complementary medicine examples?

There are several types of complementary therapies. Some of which employ mind-body interventions, others use the body's energy system, and there are also those that focus on improving diet and lifestyle. To cite a few, there's acupuncture, homoeopathy, crystal therapy, Bowen therapy and BodyTalk.

Is yoga complementary medicine?

Yes, it is a form of complementary medicine. Yoga is a holistic mind-body discipline that promotes relaxation, clarity and self-awareness, while enhancing the body's posture and flexibility.

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