5 Reasons People Are Choosing Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine is a term that describes medical treatments that are used instead of traditional (mainstream) therapies.
5 Reasons People Are Choosing Alternative Medicine
Complementary and Integrative Medicine, also called alternative medicine. Image/Shutterstock

Addiction to opioids and other prescription medications can leave families broken. Slash, burn, and poisonous cancer treatments take their toll on patients. The never-ending upward spiral of conventional healthcare costs causes pain immediately after you recover from illness. These are just three of the reasons why people are turning away from traditional medical interventions and toward alternatives.

Medicine has undoubtedly brought about great things and the continued improvement and innovation of medication will be necessary and helpful. However, people are trying to live healthier lives using diet, exercise, and an everything-in-moderation approach. It only makes sense that when they experience a medical issue, they want treatments that match their worldviews.

Some eschew conventional treatment and turn to alternative medicine completely. Others combine the two, hoping for the best of both worlds. Either way, more and more people are exploring alternative medicine and holistic wellness.

Here are five reasons why people are turning to alternatives.

1. Prescription Medications May Have More Cons Than Pros

There is no doubt that many prescription medications are highly effective when used correctly. However, they are all accompanied by dire warnings of potential side effects. No wonder someone reading a list of possible adverse effects might ask about other options.

Lamictal, for example, is often prescribed for bipolar disorder. Besides the common side effects of nausea, headache, and fatigue, it can also cause skin rashes or deadly immune reactions. Moreover, the medication can be habit-forming and many people can suffer from withdrawal symptoms once they stop taking it. So many patients ask their physicians about non-chemical Lamictal alternatives.

If a patient is in a crisis mode, traditional medication may be the only viable option. For long-term treatment though, alternative medicine may offer some safe and effective options. Depending on the health issue and its severity, there is a range of choices. These may include herbal medications, behavioral therapy, dietary changes, and more.

2. Alternatives Are Becoming More Mainstream

Acupuncture and homeopathy have been used in conventional medicine for centuries. Using diet, meditation, biofeedback, and even music to treat physical and mental health problems has lost some of its stigmas. As more patients find success with nonconventional treatments, more conventional physicians are recommending them.

Take, for example, osteopathic medicine, which is nearly identical in practice to conventional medicine. Its difference lies in a basic philosophical belief. Osteopathy is rooted in treating the entire person: mind, body, and spirit. Practitioners of osteopathic medicine take a holistic approach.

Although osteopathic physicians practice conventional surgical, pharmaceutical, and other treatment methods, they also use osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT). OMT involves moving the muscles and joints using pressure, stretching, and resistance. This allows them to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness and injury. Long viewed as less than their M.D. counterparts, osteopathic physicians are now found in every medical specialty.

Alternative medicine’s progress toward acceptance in the mainstream is a virtuous cycle. As more people use alternatives, the stigmas long associated with them disappear. Their benefits become clear, and more people turn to them for help. This is important because conventional medicine simply may not have all the answers.

3. Mounting Research Builds the Case for Alternatives

The lack of scientific research documenting the efficacy of alternative treatment has been a longstanding issue in medicine. Doctors need more than anecdotal evidence before recommending any kind of intervention. Many patients agree with this scientific approach.

In 1998, Congress established what is now called the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). As part of the National Institutes of Health, it supports and conducts rigorous research about complementary and integrative medicine.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate homeopathic medications, so research by NCCIH helps protect consumers from unsafe alternatives. For example, scientific studies about St. John’s wort have shown it may be a viable, short-term antidepressant. However, the NCCIH is also clear about its inconsistent efficacy and its dangerous interaction with other drugs. So you can be sure that you get the information you need about nontraditional options.

As the body of research continues to grow, physicians and patients will trust alternatives. As confidence in such remedies increases, so will the number of people seeking relief from them.

4. More Millennials Opt for Alternatives

Although acceptance and use of alternative medicine are growing among all adult generations, millennials, in particular, are embracing it. They are currently the largest generation in the United States, and their voices on medical matters are loud. Alternative treatments seem to match millennials’ lifestyle choices.

Millennials are the “connected generation.” Their childhoods were filled with tech, and it’s unsurprising that such a lifestyle would impact their health lives, too. Many millennials aren’t fans of conventional treatment and prescription drugs. They opt instead for online health research to identify maladies and use alternative methods to treat them.

In a crisis, many millennials may visit an urgent care clinic, but otherwise, they’ll look to the internet for a cure. If they suffer from migraines, for example, they are more likely to use acupuncture, biofeedback, or yoga than other generations.

Since millennials’ influence is on the rise, more health insurance companies are covering unconventional treatments like acupuncture, massage, and gym memberships. The move may attract more policy buyers who want to take advantage of those benefits. And that benefits members of every generation seeking treatments for illness and injury more congruent with healthier lifestyles.

5. Big Pharma and Other Companies Opt-in

Major pharmaceutical companies and food and beverage companies are developing and selling herbal and dietary supplements. These companies noticed consumer interest in these alternatives and took action. If they couldn’t beat the trend, they needed to join it.

The portfolios of companies like Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline feature herbal supplements alongside synthetic drugs. Nestlé takes its high-protein shakes and nutritional soups as seriously as its eponymous chocolate bar.

A growing market for these products creates a cash cow for big companies. Herbal supplements are considerably less expensive to develop and don’t always require FDA approval. Put the name “Nestlé” on a nutritional beverage, and consumers will try their brand first, expecting it to taste delicious.

Big pharma and major food companies have the money to invest in alternative products and unbeatable brand recognition and loyalty. As more consumers reach for dietary and herbal supplements, these companies will be happy to supply them.

Conventional treatment for physical and mental illness and injury will always have a place at the table. But they won’t have the final say. Consumers are increasingly concerned with the financial and health costs of what they put in their bodies. As the potential for unconventional treatment grows, people will seek out these treatments and expect their healthcare providers to take notice.

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Dr. Keith Kantor

Dr. Kantor has been an advocate of natural food and healthy living for 30 years. He is also on the Board of Directors for NAMI.org in G

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