You Have Options — 4 Types of Alternative Health Care

alternative health care

Do you want to feel better and have a better quality of life—physically and mentally?

Do you feel your health care is missing something?

If you answered “Yes” to either or both of these questions, you might want to consider alternative health care.

We often see a doctor when something’s wrong—an injury, pain, or persistent cough… Then, the doctor asks about our symptoms. Numerous tests may be performed—blood tests, X-rays, ultrasound…  And frequently, a pharmaceutical is recommended, especially if you’re diagnosed with a disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease.

In the case of chronic diseases, managing symptoms is the focus, not looking for curing once it’s diagnosed, or preventing the disease from developing in the first place.

 It’s believed that for U.S. adults:

  • 90% of type 2 diabetes
  • 80% of coronary heart disease 
  • 70% of stroke 
  • 70% of colon cancer

 …are potentially preventable.

As reported by the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), four lifestyle factors increase the risk of developing a chronic disease, such as diabetes or heart disease:

  • Lack of Physical Activity
  • Poor Nutrition
  • Excessive Alcohol Use
  • Tobacco Use

If you want to prevent, cure or treat an illness, you must be proactive and take an active role in your health care. This approach often involves adjusting components of your lifestyle, like diet and exercise. But other factors could be affecting your health.

4 Types of Alternative Health Care

If you want to improve your overall wellness, alternative health care gives you options. Four types are listed below:

  1. Complementary Medicine
  2. Integrative Medicine
  3. Holistic Medicine
  4. Functional Medicine

Many of these health care alternatives are based on traditional forms of healing, dating back thousands of years. They often include a “food as medicine” approach to health while supporting the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit. 

While there are alternative health practices and beliefs on the fringe of science, more and more methods are being accepted and adopted.  This is accomplished, in part, through the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a Federal Government agency.  The agency’s purpose is to research complementary and integrative health approaches to determine the usefulness and safety of these health care options. 

1. Complementary Medicine

The NCCIH defines complementary medicine as a non-mainstream approach used along with conventional medicine.

Complementary health care therapies include tai chi, yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy, spinal manipulation, art therapy, music therapy, dance, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and more. 

Yoga, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation, and natural product supplementation are among the most popular complementary health approaches adults use. 

A treatment plan for chronic back pain may include stretching exercises, chiropractic sessions, and massage therapy, in addition to medication.

2. Holistic Medicine

Holistic medicine is a broad term. It refers to a comprehensive approach to health that views the body as a whole— mind, body, and spirit—instead of just focusing on physical health. It looks at natural and alternative therapies, such as homeopathy, acupuncture, and spiritual exploration, instead of conventional medical approaches to health, such as pharmaceuticals and surgery.

A holistic treatment plan for acid reflux may include breathing exercises, herbal remedies, and other natural supplements instead of medication.

3. Integrative Medicine

Integrative medicine is seen as a holistic approach to optimal wellness because it views health as encompassing mind, body, and spirit. Yet, it also may include conventional treatments.

This approach aims to coordinate patient care among different practitioners using conventional and complementary techniques together to care for the whole person.

For example, a treatment plan for cancer may include conventional elements like surgery and chemotherapy, and complementary elements, such as nutritional counseling, meditation, and breathing exercises.

4. Functional Medicine

Functional Medicine, as defined by the Institute for Functional Medicine, “ is a systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Each symptom or differential diagnosis may be one of many contributing to an individual’s illness.”

Functional medicine looks at the interactions between genetics, lifestyle choices, and environmental exposures on a person’s health. Practitioners study the latest research in nutritional science, genomics (how genes affect different organisms), and epigenetics (how gene expression is turned on or off or off). 

They investigate potential root causes for the patient’s particular concerns and then work with them to create a personalized treatment plan that includes aspects of conventional and alternative medicine.

Prominent Functional Medicine physicians include Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Oz, and Dr. Andrew Weil.

The definitions of these different types of alternative health care continue to evolve as more research is done and each element is further examined.

All these alternative health care avenues have several things in common. Each may incorporate:

If you want to improve your health and well-being, you don’t have to be limited to the conventional health care model.  Alternative or complementary practices may prove to be life-changing.

Be sure to tell all your health care providers about any complementary or holistic health approaches you use or want to explore. This will help ensure your safe and coordinated care.

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