Benefits of Alternative Medicine and Conventional Medicine
The photo on the right shows my second daughter aged 3 days old. I have little doubt that conventional medicine saved her life, and equally little doubt that alternative techniques enhanced the quality of her life and mine. Her story is a perfect example of the miracles that happen when the differing professions work together instead of being at odds.
Alternative Medicine versus Conventional Medicine?
There is a tendency to assume that conventional and alternative medical practitioners are against each other. While this was prevalent several decades ago and may still be so in some cases, overall there has been some meeting of minds. The first time I went to an alternative practitioner it was on the advice of a medical doctor. I had back and leg pain for which rheumatologists could find no cause, and my doctor suggested I try an osteopath. This was over 20 years ago and at that time in the UK, osteopaths were definitely considered alternative. Now both they and chiropractors are now subject to statutory regulation – which means it is possible to be referred to them on the National Health Service, although it is considerably more common to be referred to a physiotherapist.
Herbs are a source of Conventional and Alternative Medicines
Complementary or alternative medicine is no longer regarded with the suspicion they once were. Which alterative therapies are incorporated into mainstream health care varies from country to country. For instance, while in the USA a Doctor of Osteopathy could be your primary care provider; that is not the case in the UK.
Examples of complementary therapies that may be provided by the NHS in the UK are:
Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)
Counselling, CBT (Cognitive Behavourial Therapy) and Hypnotherapy
Medical Doctors train in complementary techniques to provide Integrated Health Care
Some doctors take additional training in homeopathy or acupuncture, and some hospitals have alternative practitioners providing additional care options, or nurses may have trained in complementary techniques. Some therapies are available in some areas and not in others, and often therapies are available to cancer patients but not to others. Reiki is one example of this; aromatherapy is another. Hospitals in the USA, the UK and several other countries worldwide offer Reiki to patients. While in particular it has been used with cancer patients alongside conventional treatments, it is also given to cope with stress, to complement other treatments for endometriosis, and in drug addiction clinics.
The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine is Europe’s largest public-sector provider of integrated medicine. Staff members there are registered doctors or other professionals who have also trained in complementary medicine.
Acupuncture in Mainstream Medicine
In the UK, acupuncture is probably the alternative practice that has been adopted most widely in mainstream medicine, being used in many hospitals and GP practices around the UK. Around the world, there are also several on-going clinical trials taking place to determine its effectiveness. As yet there is no consensus of opinion on its effectiveness, but NHS choices say that there is “reasonably good evidence” it is effective for several types of pain, including from arthritis in the knee, chronic back pain and headaches.
I was interested to see that some randomized control studies suggest that acupuncture could improve rates of pregnancy and live births in women who have IVF treatment. While I did not have IVF, several years ago when I turned to acupuncture it was because of fertility problems. The effects were rapid: within two months I was pregnant. That first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, but I felt confident that acupuncture could help me again. We had moved to a new city, and my new acupuncturist was also trained in Chinese Herbalism, so he prescribed herbs as well.
Moxibustion heat being applied to acupuncture point
Chinese Herbs an Moxibustion
Chinese medicine approaches healing in a different way to Western medicine, and my acupuncturist/herbalist explained that in Chinese medicine infertility and miscarriage were seen as being linked. It made sense to me.
He also explained that I had deficiency in Spleen energy. In Chinese medicine the body is considered to have meridians – channels of “Qi” or energy. So deficiency of spleen does not relate to the physical organ but to the meridian, and means the “life force” of the spleen is depleted. Symptoms include tiredness and digestive problems, and it can be a cause of miscarriage. It can be aggravated by moving house: we had done that twice in the few months previously.
Chinese herbs do not taste very nice, at least not the ones I took. But as far as I am concerned they worked. My second pregnancy also threatened to end in miscarriage, and in the early days I was a regular in both the doctor’s surgery and at the herbalist’s. As well as herbs he prescribed moxibustion. You can see an example of moxibustion in use in the photograph above right. The white stick is made up of dried herbs called moxa or mugwort herb. It is lit and held over an acupuncture point for a certain length of time.
Chinese medical practitioners refer to the body as having excess or deficient heat, and moxibustion warms the meridian that is deficient. My husband found it very strange, and if you feel the same way you might be interested to know that moxibustion has been used very successfully in mainstream hospitals to turn breech babies! I didn’t care how strange it seemed, because I stopped bleeding, the rest of my pregnancy went well.
Conventional Medicine Saves A Life
If feel fairly certain that my first daughter is here because of Chinese medicine; I am sure my second daughter survived her premature birth because of conventional medicine. By the time of that pregnancy we had moved to yet another city and so didn’t have the support of the herbalist. Whether it would have made any difference is hard to guess: my toddler had been ill for weeks and eventually, at 26 weeks pregnant, I caught the same virus.
At the hospital, first doctors thought I had a bladder infection, but it soon became clear that I was in labor. Doctors gave me a shot of steroids to boost the baby’s lungs. They also gave me a drug to stop my labor. Because this doubles the mother’s heartbeat it can only be given for 24 hours and in that time I was transferred to a hospital with intensive care facilities for newborn babies.
Within seconds of my daughter’s birth she was whisked away. She had IV drips inserted, her lungs sprayed with a surfactant to aid breathing and she was put on a ventilator. Within a few hours she was able to breathe with the CPAP machine that you can see in the photograph at the top of this article. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Airways Pressure and the machine delivers air under pressure, but unlike the ventilator does not breathe for you.
However, our daughter wasn’t done with ventilators: she became seriously ill with a lung infection at one week old and again shortly after her due date. Both times, without the ventilator she would have died.
Imagine what it must be like to start your life that way: to leave the comfort of the womb and be instantly bombarded by needles and tubes. While in the photograph you can see all the tubes and wires trailing from her, what you can’t see are the IV drip needles in her arms and feet. Not surprisingly, this caused her some distress.
My daughter in her incubator
Alternative Medical Care enhances life
Fortunately being tucked inside her father’s shirt helped relieve that distress. (More often it was me who held her this way.) The name for this type of holding is Kangaroo Care. It was developed in Columbia by Doctors Martinez and Rey in an attempt to cope with lack of incubators and to encourage mothers to care for their premature babies. (Previously many mothers abandoned their babies.) Kangaroo Care was so successful that the technique spread around the world and is now used in conjunction with conventional care, even when there are plenty of incubators. The first time I held my daughter in Kangaroo Care she was 39 hours old. I do not know how I would have got through the months that followed without it.
This is the real beauty of alternative health care: practitioners see beyond symptoms to the whole person, to the emotional as well as physical needs. The nurse who introduced me to Kangaroo Care explained that in the past premature babies had their physical needs met, but often had emotional difficulties. She also taught me how to massage my baby and how to read her signals. All of this helped us both relax and bond. There are very easy ways to see the effect these treatments have on babies. For instance, when my daughter was relaxed in Kangaroo Care the monitor showed raised oxygen levels.
Conventional medicine’s strength is in its ability to respond to emergency situations. It saves lives.
Complementary or alternative medicine, can, as it did for my daughter, make that life, once saved, worth living.
When the two modes work together miracles occur.
References and further reading
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