Thursday, January 5, 2012

Herbs, Massage, and Tiny Needles - The Wide World of Alternative Medicine

It's the middle of the week, and everything at work is going crazy. You are stressed to the breaking point, and someone suggests you get a massage. Is this merely willful self-indulgence? Nope. It is actually medicine-alternative medicine.

If you're considering working in the field of alternative medicine and are undertaking a college search, you might be interested in more information about alternative medicine. Even those considering attending a top pharmacy school or even dental school should be aware of trends in alternative medicine and should consider this as part of a college search.

Science or Sham?

Professor Mary Bennett of Indiana State University conducted a pilot study and found that a half-hour massage in the morning not only created feelings of wellbeing and satisfaction in study participants, but even lowered their systolic blood pressure.

Acupuncture has been found to treat diabetes, provide pain relief, and increase pregnancy success for in-vitro patients (although scientists can't deny the success rates, they are still at a loss as to why it works).

Studies have shown that Zinc and Echinacea (a common herb, often seen in gardens and called "coneflower") can significantly shorten the duration of a cold.

All of these therapies fall into the category of alternative medicine. It is estimated that four out of ten Americans will use some form of alternative medicine in the next year, and these numbers are expected to rise in the coming years. If you have an interest in natural health, consider studying alternative medicine. After all, as more Americans integrate alternative therapies into their treatment, more practitioners will be needed.

Basic Alternative Medicine Terms

Many therapies can be considered alternative medicine, but most utilize a handful of common philosophies and language.

All of the various practices take the whole body and person into account; in other words, while you may have gone for treatment of your chronic headaches, you may find yourself answering questions about your sleeping and bathroom habits. This is considered "whole body wellness" and is common to every alternative medical regimen.

Many practices consider particular parts of the body to have significance. Oriental and Indian medicine often talk about "chakras," points in the body that can become cool or blocked and require a specific treatment to open. Acupuncture and acupressure follow a chart made thousands of years ago correlating spots on hands, feet, face and spine to various internal organs.

Homeopathic medicine (and some oriental and Indian medicine) works on a theory very similar to vaccines; it's thought that giving the body tiny, minute doses of various poisons and toxins will help stimulate the body's own immune response. In other words, a homeopathic sleep remedy may contain tiny amounts of caffeine.

Herbal therapy is probably the closest alternative medical treatment to standard western medicine. Herbs are used for their chemical elements, often in concentrated forms. Herbs are used very much like standard pills and medications.

These are just a few of the many hallmarks of alternative medicine; it's important to do your research to find out which theory and practice piques your interest.

Choosing the Practice That Is Right For You

Homeopathy, rolfing, reflexology-when you see the variety of alternative medical treatments now available, it can be difficult to determine which practice best suits your beliefs and abilities. Below is a brief list of some of the common degrees conferred in alternative medicine.

Acupuncture Physician or Certified Acupuncturist. This title comes with a certification program in some states.

Naturopathic Physician. These practitioners often combine herbal therapies with acupuncture and homeopathic medicine.

Massage Therapist. This certification program usually trains individuals in a variety of therapeutic massage techniques.

Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Using a variety of Chinese and Japanese herbal remedies, these doctors treat everything ranging from stomach ailments to arthritis.

Doctor of Ayurvedic Medicine. Similar to oriental medicine, but Indian in origin.

As alternative medicine continues to grow in popularity, formal training will become more popular and readily accessible. Already, you'll find that many career colleges are offering courses in various therapies, and specialty colleges that offer standard certification programs are more common now as well. If you want to work in a field that meets at the intersection of medicine and nature, alternative medical practice may be right for you!

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