Modern medicine has advanced at an astonishing rate in recent years and is set to continue on its current trajectory. Some of the most significant medical breakthroughs of the last half-century include the worldwide eradication of smallpox in 1980 and the introduction of telemedicine, which allows for greater provider accessibility.
Despite modern medical advancements, however, many people hold a general distrust of traditional medicine. Others may have tried out modern healthcare to help heal a complex or chronic condition, with unsatisfactory results. Thus, patients throughout the world are increasingly turning to the world of alternative medicine, which includes homeopathy, acupuncture, stem cell therapy, and more.
Depending on the patient and his or her healthcare needs, either traditional or alternative medicine may be the best treatment options. Sometimes, a combination approach offers the most notable results. When traditional healthcare and alternative medicine are used in tandem to treat a patient, it is considered a complementary approach. And complementary medicine exemplifies the likely future of healthcare — one that merges Western medicine with a non-mainstream practice for the purposes of holistic healing.
Homeopathy and Holistic Health: What’s in a Name?
There are a number of misconceptions surrounding so-called “holistic” health. Put simply, a holistic approach is one that treats the whole patient: Body, mind, and spirit. In the realm of holistic medicine, treating the illness or symptoms is just a small piece of a much more comprehensive picture.
Homeopathy is considered a type of holistic practice, but it takes the “whole body” approach one step further. First developed by German physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, homeopathy is based on the belief that the body can heal itself, if it has the correct tools. There are three core principles behind homeopathic remedies: Homeopathic doctors prescribe the smallest possible dose, only a single remedy is given at a time, and a cure and disease must have similar symptoms in order to work properly.
The dosage size is of particular importance, as homeopathic remedies attempt to reduce side effects as much as possible. This is one of the most glaring distinctions between traditional medicine and homeopathic healing. In Western medical practices, side effects are seen as more of a necessary evil, and patients may even be prescribed an additional medication to help counteract severe side effects.
Herbal medicine is another example of alternative healthcare methods. Proponents of holistic care tout the numerous benefits of herbs, plants, and flowers to help preserve overall health and wellness. For example, nettles have been shown to support the immune system, while yarrow boasts anti-inflammatory properties and may aid in circulation.
Innovations at the Intersection of Technology and Healthcare
Alternative medicine encompasses much more than homeopathy and plant-based remedies, however. Technology itself is helping fuel the future of medicine, and innovative, futuristic treatments including stem cell therapy are increasingly entering the mainstream. Stem cells have a vast amount of potential when it comes to repairing organ damage and replacing unhealthy cells, such as those affected by cancer or a compromised immune system.
Like many other forms of alternative medicine, stem cell therapy is strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Currently, there are only a handful of approved treatments using stem cells that are FDA approved. For example, stem cells extracted from bone marrow can be used in cancer therapy, and cord blood cell extractions are allowed as treatment for blood-related disorders.
Further, stem cell therapy poses a number of dangers that consumers should be aware of. Illegal stem cell clinics operate around the world and often provide unsafe or unproven treatment. Unproven or improperly administered stem cell treatments can lead to tumors, adverse site reactions, and the failure of cells to react as expected. Therefore, patients considering stem cell therapy should ensure that the proposed treatment is either FDA approved or being studied under an Investigational New Drug Application (IND), which is the precursor to FDA approval.
Navigating a Changing Healthcare Landscape
The unfortunate reality of modern healthcare is that every aspect of the industry has been commoditized. Hospitals, specialized clinics, and treatment facilities in general are typically as concerned about their bottom line as they are about patient care. And the healthcare industry must adhere to numerous legal guidelines as well to ensure patient safety and wellbeing.
The rules surrounding the development of new pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, such as stem cells, are of particular importance for healthcare professionals and administrators. Since 1997, the results of clinical trials have been publicly available online, and patients can easily access information about treatment and various pharmaceuticals. It’s important to note that alternative and homeopathic remedies aren’t typically scrutinized by governing bodies. Those products must be affixed with a label indicating that they are not approved by the FDA to treat a particular health condition.
As the healthcare industry continues to evolve, we’re starting to see a shift back towards holistic care, which was once the only option for medical treatment and healing. But many patients find that a combination approach that merges Western and alternative medicine is the most effective form of treatment.
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Guest Author Bio
Jori Hamilton is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest who covers social justice issues, healthcare, and politics. You can follow her work on twitter @HamiltonJori, and through her portfolio at Writer Jori Hamilton.