Currently, available evidence does not support the effectiveness of acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, reiki or aromatherapy, all of them known as alternative therapies.
And yet, many people use them and will continue to do so regardless of how many times this is pointed out. Why does this happen?
In many cases, it’s because patients are dissatisfied with conventional medicine. This might be because conventional treatments do not appear to work for them, or because the associated adverse effects might be too hard to endure. Another aspect of this dissatisfaction is that doctors and nurses tend to be overworked and the attention received may be rushed: many patients may feel that they’re simply a cog in a machine, subjected to impersonal, by-numbers care.
Compared to this, alternative therapists dedicate substantial amounts of time to each patient and consider their treatment as holistic, treating the whole person rather than the disease and taking into account psychological and personal factors. As a result, treatments are tailored and place more value on the patient as a person. This approach may help patients to feel more in control of their treatment as they feel that their input is valued.
A study carried out in the US in 1998 identified numerous factors that made people more likely to use alternative therapies, such as suffering from hard to treat conditions such as chronic pain, back problems or anxiety. Those who were in poorer health were also more likely to look for alternatives to conventional treatment, suggesting they turned to these therapies when they felt that conventional medicine couldn’t do any more for them.
Alternative therapies such as meditation, reiki, and aromatherapy can help promote relaxation and a general sense of wellbeing. This is important for patients, regardless of whether these therapies have an effect on the cause of their illness or not. As such, alternative therapies can complement conventional treatments by helping patients to feel better.
As well as assuming that alternative therapies are effective, most patients believe that they are without risks. This is usually associated with the idea that they are “natural”, and that this means that they do not have adverse effects.
Although it is true that reiki is risk-free, this is not necessarily true for the rest: adverse effects have indeed been reported for chiropractic manipulation, aromatherapy, homeopathy and acupuncture, some of them serious. If you are tempted to believe that natural is equivalent to harmless you only need to think of cyanide, tsunamis or hungry lions, all perfectly natural, none of them harmless.
The other danger of alternative therapies is that patients may be convinced that they are sufficient to keep them healthy and thus stop or delay conventional medical treatments which have a better chance of controlling or curing the disease. A recent study showed that the use of alternative therapies instead of conventional medicine increased the risk of death in breast, colon, and lung cancer patients between two and five-fold. These results confirmed those of another study from 2006 which showed that breast cancer patients using alternative therapies had higher risks of recurrence and death.
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