You may be surprised to hear me say that alternative medicine is not wellness. As you read this article, it may seem like a minor point however, it is very important. Without this distinction, it becomes very easy to lose sight of true health and makes it difficult to achieve wellness. In our society, increasingly overwhelmed by information, we can easily be misinformed and begin to confuse concepts and ideas. Clarifying these two related, yet distinct, concepts will give you a better understanding of real health and help you in your journey to wellness.
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What Is Medicine?
To better understand the purpose of alternative medicine, let’s look first at traditional, Western medicine. Stedman’s Medical Dictionary defines medicine as:
1. A drug
2. The art of preventing or curing disease; the science concerned with disease and all its relations.
The first thing we learn from this definition is that a medicine is a drug. This same medical dictionary defines a drug as: “any substance, other than food, used in the prevention, diagnosis, alleviation, treatment, or cure of disease.” Americans are certainly not opposed to treating ailments with drugs. According to recent research(1), 70 percent of Americans are regularly taking prescription drugs. The most common prescriptions are antibiotics, antidepressants, and painkillers.
According to this research, 13 percent of the general population is on antidepressants. Nearly one in four women (that’s 25%) ages 50 to 64 are taking antidepressant drugs. We spent $250 billion on prescription drugs in 2009. In 2010, 3.99 billion prescriptions were written, followed by 4.02 billion prescriptions in 2011.(2) Wow! There is a pill for every ill and, apparently, Americans like it that way.
The second thing we learn from the definition of medicine is this. The art of medicine is concerned with disease and treating disease. We are all familiar with the practice of medicine and it’s treatments. Medical treatments basically consist of drugs, surgery and radiation.
Modern medicine attempts to counteract the symptoms of disease by poisoning (drugs), cutting (surgery), or burning (radiation) them out of your body. If you have not seen the documentary film “Cut, Poison, Burn”, then you will definitely want to check it out. It will give you a clear understanding of how modern medicine works, as well as, the inherent and dangerous effects of these treatments.
Medicine is one approach to managing our health. In fact, it is the most popular approach in America. Does that mean that it is the best path to choose? Is it the safest? Is it even effective? In some cases, medicine is very effective at treating disease. However, in all cases the cause of disease is not addressed. Medicine concerns itself with treating the symptoms of disease. Medicine does a terrific job at treating most symptoms. Often, it is the quickest method to cover up a symptom like pain. But what about the cause? Ponder these examples of the most commonly prescribed drugs:
Antibiotics are given to kill bacteria but what caused or allowed the bacteria to develop in your body? Bacteria is naturally everywhere in your body. You have billions of bacteria living in your digestive system that are healthy and essential to normal digestion. What causes a bacterial infection?
Antidepressant drugs are prescribed to chemically alter your feelings of depression but what is the cause of your depression? How does chemically altering your brain chemistry address the cause of your depression? A chemical imbalance is only a symptom of the problem, not the cause of your depression.
Painkillers are given to mask the sensation of pain but what is causing your pain? Most of us have experienced the pain of a pinched nerve at some point in our lives. Masking the pain with powerful painkillers may cause you to not feel the pain. However, there is no amount of drugs that will get the pressure off of that pinched nerve. The cause of the pain is still there and still getting worse with time.
The symptoms of illness can be very effectively treated and covered with medicine, often to the point that you are unaware of them. Meanwhile the disease process that is causing the symptoms continues to ravage your body! Of course, we haven’t even started to discuss the side effects of these treatments. As you are well aware, there are many and diverse dangerous, even deadly, side effects associated with medical treatments. What other options do you have? Let’s look at alternative medicine.
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What Is Alternative Medicine?
We have to go beyond our medical dictionary to understand alternative medicine. It is an alternative approach to treating the symptoms of disease. Dictionary.com defines alternative medicine this way:
healthcare and treatment practices, including traditional Chinese medicine, chiropractic, folk medicine, and naturopathy, that minimize or eschew the use of surgery and drugs.
Alternative medicine is known for using natural remedies to treat the symptoms of illness. Its treatments include things like vitamins, minerals, herbs, homeopathic remedies, flower essences, essential oils, food, massage, and chiropractic adjustments, among many other various natural therapies. I love them all! I am a huge fan of natural remedies as opposed to medical treatment.
While alternative medicine does not use pharmaceutical drugs like traditional medicine, it has a common purpose. Alternative medicine uses natural remedies in the prevention, diagnosis, alleviation, treatment, or cure of disease. Does this sound familiar? Remember the definition of a drug. “Any substance, other than food, used in the prevention, diagnosis, alleviation, treatment, or cure of disease.”
So, if we are using any substance to prevent, diagnose, alleviate, treat or cure disease, then, by definition, it is a drug. We cannot (legally) call an alternative medicine/therapy a drug but it is important to understand that its underlying purpose is the same a pharmaceutical drug – only without the ridiculous side effects!
There is certainly a huge difference between traditional medicine and alternative medicine. The biggest benefit of using alternative medicine is that these treatments allow you to avoid the inherent side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. That does not mean that alternative and natural treatments do not have any side effects. They can and should be used wisely and, in some cases, under supervision of the appropriate natural physician.
Lets look at some examples of alternative medicine treatments using the conditions treated by the most commonly prescribed drugs.
Bacterial infections – There are many natural substances that have antibacterial properties (kill bacteria). These include garlic, raw honey, coconut oil, colloidal silver, and Echinacea, among many others. Also, vitamins like vitamins A, C, and D are great for boosting the immune system to help you naturally fight off infection. Of course, your diet can be modified to make it more alkaline and suppress growth of bacteria. These are great natural treatments with little to no side effects and they can even have great health effects. However, these are treatments that (aside from the dietary changes) do not address the cause of the bacterial infection.
Depression – Here are some great natural remedies for depression: St. John’s Wort, Sam-e, 5-HTP, folic acid, and saffron. Additionally, diet and exercise can be used to treat the symptoms of depression. Antidepressant drugs have the most deadly side effects (including suicidal thoughts and tendencies!). Anything that you can do naturally to avoid these side effects is highly advisable. However, once again, we see that alternative medicine is focused on naturally treating disease and not correcting the cause of the problem.
Pain – Natural remedies for pain abound. They can include things like garlic, cloves, apple cider vinegar, capsaicin, pineapple, grapes, white willow bark, arnica, and many homeopathic remedies. Again, I favor them all as compared to dangerous pain relievers. Even chiropractic care can be used simply to treat pain. As a chiropractic physician I see patients regularly who are looking for alternatives to traditional medicine for pain treatment. However, if we are only treating the pain, we are disregarding the cause of your problem and the pain will continue. I personally feel that I do my patients a great injustice if I allow them to use chiropractic care for pain treatment only without also correcting the cause of the pain.
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Alternative medicine is often as effective as traditional medicine. In many cases, it is even more effective. Alternative medicine is far safer than traditional medicine as well. Indeed, you will be healthier if you opt for the natural remedies of alternative medicine rather than the inherently dangerous treatments of traditional medicine. However, what you will be missing out on – in most cases – is correcting the cause of your problem.
It is possible to use completely natural remedies 100% of the time and yet never correct the cause of your health problem. I have taken care of many patients taking handfuls of pharmaceutical drugs every day and they are only getting sicker!
I have also taken care of many patients taking handfuls of vitamins, herbs and homeopathics every day and yet their condition continues unresolved as well. Truly, those choosing natural remedies exclusively are generally more healthy and appear more vibrant; however, the health condition – their disease – persists.
What Is Wellness?
Simply put, Wellness is a different way of living. In our modern society, we are prone to developing all sorts of disease and illness. These are reasonable consequences of our lifestyles. We set ourselves up for disease.
The standard American lifestyle includes an abundance of processed and nutrient depleted foods, little to no exercise, abundant toxic chemicals, extremely stressful jobs, difficult and negative personal relationships, and no spiritual connectedness. These physical, chemical, and emotional stresses are the root cause of all our disease.
Most often, we choose to treat the resulting symptoms with pharmaceutical drugs or other medical procedures. If you are a little more health savvy, you may choose alternative medicine. However, if we continually refuse to change our LIFESTYLE, we will continually experience disease and its symptoms. Regardless of how we treat them (traditional vs. alternative medicine), we will continue to live with them. We will never gain optimum health or achieve true wellness.
We must consciously choose a different lifestyle. Wellness is all about your LIFESTYLE. Choosing the standard American lifestyle is choosing disease. Choosing a wellness lifestyle is choosing optimum health and vibrant wellness.
A wellness lifestyle includes vibrant and nutrient rich foods, sufficient effective exercise, non-toxic choices, proper stress and time management, proper sleep, positive relationships, and spiritual connections. This lifestyle supports fantastic health. It honors the innate healing of your body.
A wellness lifestyle prevents infection, depression, and chronic pain from ever developing. A wellness lifestyle counteracts the negative stresses that we are exposed to everyday. It includes many positive stresses that produce great health. Wellness removes and prevents interference from your body’s own innate healing power.
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The Role of Alternative Medicine In A Wellness Lifestyle
The bottom line is that alternative medicine treats disease (naturally), while wellness prevents disease and supports innate healing. A Wellness lifestyle may include alternative medicine but it will not include traditional medicine.I have lived outside of the standard American medical system for well over twenty years – no drugs, no surgery, no radiation. It is most definitely possible to do so.
The medical system certainly has its place though. In fact, there is one area where our American medical system really shines. That is in the area of emergency medicine. If I am hit by a bus and my leg is severed, I will definitely seek medical treatment for that injury. However, once my leg is re-attached to my body, I will continue my wellness way of living to support my body’s natural healing and recovery.
If you have lived most of your life in the disease-producing, standard American lifestyle, I implore you to change today! You can live better. You can experience radiant health and wellness. Your body can and will heal as it is designed, once you begin removing the interference.
However, making that transition may not be easy for you. Incorporating the many wonderful natural remedies of alternative medicine can help you make that transition more easily. In order to fully experience wellness, we must change our mindset from one of treating disease from the outside to one of honoring our inborn healing ability.
We are all at different points in our journey to wellness. The good news is that wellness is a lifestyle you can achieve!
(1) Study shows 70 percent of Americans take prescription drugs http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57590305/study-shows-70-percent-of-americans-take-prescription-drugs/
(2) There’s A Pill For That: Drug Prescriptions in the U.S. Hit a Record High http://www.takepart.com/article/2012/09/14/theres-pill-drug-prescriptions-us-hit-record-high