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Introduction to alternative remedies: Aromatherapy, acupuncture, massage and homeopathy

Oct 19, 2011, 6:40 p.m.

Would you let someone stick you with thin needles to manage chronic pain? Or ingest small amounts of a harmful substance if it could cure illness? Acupuncture and homeopathy, respectively, are two alternative medical treatments that have become increasingly popular in the last decade. In fact, nearly 40% of adults report using alternative treatments in addition to conventional Western medicine. An integrated approach to care is especially popular for treating cancer or managing chronic illness.

Alternative medicine focuses on the underlying cause for pain and illness. These treatments are designed to naturally enhance the immune system, speed healing and optimize your overall health. If you're wondering if an alternative treatment is right for you, here’s a quick primer of the most popular alternative remedies.

Aromatherapy

Scent is one of our most vital senses and is closely tied to the oldest parts of our brain. Aromatherapy uses essential oils (the “essence” of a plant, extracted from the bark, leaves, flowers or roots) to provide psychological and physiological health benefits. For example, diffusing eucalyptus oil can help ease congestion, while lavender enhances relaxation. Essential oils are either inhaled into the lungs or applied directly to the skin in a diluted form for pain relief, increased cognitive function and mood enhancement. The FDA does not regulate the use of essential oils for medical purposes, so if you are interested in aromatherapy, do your research prior to purchasing any oils.

Acupuncture

A licensed acupuncturist inserts long, thin needles into pressure points in the body to relieve pain and enhance the immune system. According to the ancient Chinese, these pressure points correspond with the body’s meridians or “energy pathways.” Contemporary science recognizes that the needles stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissues. This stimulation enhances blood flow and lymph activity and prompts the body to release natural painkillers. This may help relieve pain associated with fibromyalgia, headaches and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

Massage

Whether you suffer from chronic pain or are struggling to recover from an injury, massage treatments can naturally enhance your body’s ability to heal. The physical act of massage stimulates the flow of blood, which flushes out toxins and lactic acid from the muscles. In addition to lowering blood pressure and cortisol levels, massage treatments help lengthen the muscles and release tension, restoring a full range of movement to the body.

Homeopathy

This “whole-body” system uses minute doses of a substance to stimulate the body to self heal. Homeopathy is based on the principle that “like cures like” and that the lower the dose of a medication, the greater its effectiveness. There is no standard remedy; each remedy is matched to a specific health problem. For example, the remedy you take for a headache is specific to where the headache occurs, what aggravates it, and the type of pain experienced. An estimated 3.9 million Americans turn to homeopathy to treat everything from allergies and asthma to digestive disorders and skin rashes.

Research on the efficacy of these treatments varies widely, and it is important to talk to your medical doctor before beginning any alternative treatment.

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