UsageFurther information: List of branches of alternative medicine
A 2011 multi-National systematic review concluded that about 40% of cancer patients use some form of complementary and alternative medicine. Alternative medicine varies from country to country. Jurisdictions where alternative medical practices are sufficiently widespread may license and regulate them. Edzard Ernst has said that in Austria and Germany complementary and alternative medicine is mainly in the hands of physicians, while some estimates suggest that at least half of American alternative practitioners are physicians. In Germany herbs are tightly regulated: half are prescribed by doctors and covered by health insurance based on their Commission E legislation.
Many people utilize mainstream medicine for diagnosis and basic information, while turning to alternatives for therapy or health-enhancing measures. Studies indicate that alternative approaches are often used in conjunction with conventional medicine. This is referred to by NCCAM as integrative (or integrated) medicine because it "combines treatments from conventional medicine and CAM for which there is some high-quality evidence of safety and effectiveness." According to Andrew T. Weil M.D., a leading proponent of integrative medicine, the principles of integrative medicine include: appropriate use of conventional and CAM methods; patient participation; promotion of health as well as treatment of disease; and a preference for natural, minimally-invasive methods.
A 1997 survey found that 13.7% of respondents in the United States had sought the services of both a medical doctor and an alternative medicine practitioner. The same survey found that 96% of respondents who sought the services of an alternative medicine practitioner also sought the services of a medical doctor in the past 12 months. Medical doctors are often unaware of their patient's use of alternative medical treatments as only 38.5% of the patients alternative therapies were discussed with their medical doctor.
Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia that "about half the general population in developed countries use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)." Survey results released in May 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the United States National Institutes of Health, found that in 2002 62.1% of adults in the country had used some form of CAM in the past 12 months and 75% across lifespan (though these figure drop to 36.0% and 50% if prayer specifically for health reasons is excluded); this study included yoga, meditation, herbal treatments and the Atkins diet as CAM. Another study suggests a similar figure of 40%.
A British telephone survey by the BBC of 1209 adults in 1998 shows that around 20% of adults in Britain had used alternative medicine in the past 12 months. Ernst has been active politically on this issue as well, publicly requesting that Prince Charles recall two guides to alternative medicine published by the Foundation for Integrated Health, on the grounds that "hey both contain numerous misleading and inaccurate claims concerning the supposed benefits of alternative medicine" and that "he nation cannot be served by promoting ineffective and sometimes dangerous alternative treatments." In general, he believes that CAM can and should be subjected to scientific testing.
The use of alternative medicine in developed countries appears to be increasing. A 1998 study showed that the use of alternative medicine had risen from 33.8% in 1990 to 42.1% in 1997. In the United Kingdom, a 2000 report ordered by the House of Lords suggested that "...limited data seem to support the idea that CAM use in the United Kingdom is high and is increasing." In developing nations, access to essential medicines is severely restricted by lack of resources and poverty. Traditional remedies, often closely resembling or forming the basis for alternative remedies, may comprise primary healthcare or be integrated into the healthcare system. In Africa, traditional medicine is used for 80% of primary healthcare, and in developing nations as a whole over one-third of the population lack access to essential medicines.
Advocates of alternative medicine hold that the various alternative treatment methods are effective in treating a wide range of major and minor medical conditions, and that recently published research (such as Michalsen, 2003, Gonsalkorale 2003, and Berga 2003) proves the effectiveness of specific alternative treatments. They assert that a PubMed search revealed over 370,000 research papers classified as alternative medicine published in Medline-recognized journals since 1966 in the National Library of Medicine database. See also Kleijnen 1991, and Linde 1997.
Complementary therapies are often used in palliative care or by practitioners attempting to manage chronic pain in patients. Complementary medicine is considered more acceptable in the interdisciplinary approach used in palliative care than in other areas of medicine. "From its early experiences of care for the dying, palliative care took for granted the necessity of placing patient values and lifestyle habits at the core of any design and delivery of quality care at the end of life. If the patient desired complementary therapies, and as long as such treatments provided additional support and did not endanger the patient, they were considered acceptable." The non-pharmacologic interventions of complementary medicine can employ mind-body interventions designed to "reduce pain and concomitant mood disturbance and increase quality of life."
Physicians who practice complementary medicine usually discuss and advise patients as to available complementary therapies. Patients often express interest in mind-body complementary therapies because they offer a non-drug approach to treating some health conditions. Some mind-body techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, were once considered complementary medicine, but are now a part of conventional medicine in the United States. "Complementary medicine treatments used for pain include: acupuncture, low-level laser therapy, meditation, aroma therapy, Chinese medicine, dance therapy, music therapy, massage, herbalism, therapeutic touch, yoga, osteopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, and homeopathy."
In defining complementary medicine in the UK, the House of Lords Select Committee determined that the following therapies were the most often used to complement conventional medicine: Alexander technique, Aromatherapy, Bach and other flower remedies, Body work therapies including massage, Counselling stress therapies, hypnotherapy, Meditation, Reflexology, Shiatsu, Maharishi Ayurvedic medicine, Nutritional medicine, and Yoga.
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