Practical Tips for Alternative Medicine: Melatonin Supplements

Melatonin supplements are commonly used as a sleep aid, managing jet lag, high-blood pressure, endometriosis, anxiety, and certain other situations. It even works as a sunscreen. Generally speaking, there’s a popular misconception that because melatonin is a “supplement” and because it’s naturally-occurring in the body, that it’s relatively harmless. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Even apart from a list of side effects that includes headaches, daytime drowsiness, dizziness, cramps and irritability, it’s hard to know exactly how your body will react. Made by the pineal gland, melatonin is a hormone that’s a little like but not quite a neurotransmitter. It definitely has an effect on the uptake of neurotransmitters including serotonin. Melatonin can have complex physiological effects based on its ability to affect other things in the body.


Now, we’re not saying that the benefits won’t outweigh the adverse effects. Moreover, there is something you can do to make smarter choices about your long-term melatonin use:


  • Practical Tip—Your thyroid is one of the things that can be affected by melatonin use and chronic use in particular. This can be a good thing for one person and a bad thing for the next person. So next time you’re at the doctor’s office, and ideally before starting a regimen of melatonin, have your thyroid levels checked. This should give you something of a baseline to measure future thyroid activity, a notoriously difficult thing to track.



Alternative Medicine: Naturopathy

Naturopathic medicine emphasizes prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances. This form of alternative medicine employs an array of pseudoscientific practices based on vitalism and folk medicine. Naturopathic practitioners often recommend that patients refrain from utilizing modern medical practices, which include medical testing, drugs, vaccinations, and surgery. Rather, naturopathic study and practice rely on unscientific beliefs. As a result, many in the medical field believe naturopathic medicine to be ineffective and possibly harmful.


On its own, naturopathy is not harmful. Methods include herbalism, homeopathy, acupuncture, applied kinesiology, color therapy, cranial osteopathy, hair analysis, psychotherapy, reflexology, and massage therapy. Nature cures are very common in this form of medicine; this includes exposure to the natural elements, such as sunshine, fresh air, or natural heat and cold, as well as nutritional advice like following vegetarian and whole food diets. Naturopathy preaches “mindfulness” through meditation, relaxation, and other methods of stress management. These methods, while potentially ineffective, are not dangerous.


However, the beliefs associated with naturopathy, such as antivaccination stances and advising against the use of Western medicine, can be incredibly harmful to patients. The advising of individuals to refrain from medical treatment and diagnosis has brought up several ethical questions within the medical community. There is concern that naturopathy as a field tends toward isolation from general scientific discourage; natural substances, known as nutraceuticals, show little promise in treating severe diseases—especially cancer. While recreational use of naturopathy is not harmful, adopting its hardline positions on Western medicine can cause significant harm.


Naturopaths represent a diverse group of practitioners: those with a government-issued license, those who practice outside of an official status, and those who are primarily another type of health professional who may also practice naturopathy. Licensed naturopaths must pass the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations, which is administered by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners.


Alternative Medicine: Acupuncture

Acupuncture is one of the most popular and in-vogue forms of alternative medicine. In this practice, thin needles are inserted through the skin into the body at various points. Acupuncture is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, though techniques vary depending on the country. In the United States, acupuncture is most often used for pain relief, but it is also applied to treat a wide range of other conditions. Acupuncture has little scientific support and is often only used in conjunction with other forms of treatment. While some research suggests the acupuncture can alleviate pain, the majority of research suggests that its effects are mainly due to the placebo effect.


Increasingly, acupuncture is being used for overall wellness and stress management. Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy—known as qi (chi)–believed to travel through pathways within the body. Inserting needles into specific points along these meridians is said to balance the flow of energy. However, many Western practitioners of acupuncture view these points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissue.


Acupuncture is used to relief discomfort associated with a variety of diseases and conditions. This can include anything from chemotherapy-induced nausea and labor pain to dental aches and menstrual cramps. Acupuncture is generally safe when performed by a trained practitioner using clean, single-use needles. When properly delivered, it has a low rate of mostly minor adverse effects, and most accidents and infections are associate with practitioner neglect. However, individuals may be at risk for complications if they have a bleeding disorder, have a pacemaker, or are pregnant.


In traditional acupuncture, the practitioner decides which points to treat by observing and questioning the patient. There are also several related practices, including acupressure, moxibustion, and cupping therapy, most of which are common in traditional Chinese medicine.



Alternative Medicine: Ayurveda

Ayurveda is a medicinal system with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent. Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems—it was developed more than 3,000 years ago. The system of medicine is based on the believe that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Ayurveda is preventative; the goal is to promote good health rather than fight disease. However, certain treatments may be geared toward specific health problems. In the United States, Ayurvedic medicine is considered to be a form of complementary and alternative medicine.


The main Ayurveda texts include accounts of the transmission of medical knowledge from the Gods to sages. This information was then passed to human physicians. Ayurveda therapies have varied and evolved over more than two millennia and are typically based on complex herbal compounds, minerals, and metal substances. Ancient texts also taught certain surgical techniques, such as rhinoplasty, kidney stone extraction, sutures, and the extraction of foreign objects.


Those who practice Ayurveda believe every person is made of five basic elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. These combine in the human body to form three life forces, called doshas, which control how the body works: Vata dosha, Pitta dosha, and Kapha dosha. Individuals inherit a unique mix of these three doshas, though one of often stronger than the others. Each controls a different body function. Vata dosha, the most powerful, controls basic body functions, such as cell division. It also controls the mind, breathing, blood flow, heart function, and intestinal processes. Those who have Vata doshas as a main energy are allegedly more likely to develop conditions like anxiety, asthma, heart disease, skin problems, and rheumatoid arthritis.


Pitta dosha is said to control digestion, metabolism, and certain hormones linked to appetite. If this is an individual’s main life force, they will be more likely to develop conditions like Crohn’s disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, and infections. Finally, Kapha dosha is said to control muscle growth, body strength, stability, weight, and the immune system.


While the benefits of Ayurveda have very limited scientific support, the system appears to promote generally healthy lifestyles. If adopting this system is what a person needs to develop healthier eating and living habits, it is an excellent option for preventative action.


Practical Tips for Alternative Medicine: CBD Oil

CBD oil is an increasingly popular alternative medicinal substance. Cannabidiol, known colloquially as CBD, is one of the many compounds (cannabinoids) in the cannabis plant. Until recently, the best-known compound in cannabis was delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, the most active cannabinoid in marijuana. Recently, researchers have been searching for therapeutic uses of CBD. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive; it does, however, appear to produce significant changes in the body, suggesting medical benefits.


CBD offers a natural alternative to pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Advil and Ibuprofen. Authors of a study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that CBD significantly reduced chronic inflammation and pain. The research also suggested that the non-psychoactive compounds in marijuana, including CBD, could constitute a new treatment for chronic pain.


Researchers have also discovered a link between CBD use and certain conditions characteristic of epileptic seizures; a low dose of CBD may ease seizures. In fact, in June of 2018, the FDA approved CBD for the treatment of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. The most common side effects were very mild, including sleepiness, sedation and lethargy, elevated liver enzymes, and decrease appetite.


Several studies are ongoing regarding the potential effect of CBD on certain neuropsychiatric disorders, as well as a variety of anxiety disorders. According to a review from Neurotherapeutics, CBD may reduce anxiety-related behaviors in people with panic disorders, PTSD, general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.


Most recently, researchers have begun to unpack the connection between CBD and Gastrointestinal disorders, such as IBS. While these studies are in their preliminary stages, early findings suggest that CBD can play a vital role in the neuromodulatory function of the GI system. Certain reactions can lead to inhibiting the secretion of digestive fluid and inflammation. While these studies are far from complete, we are looking forward to the results.


Practical Tips for Alternative Medicine: Chiropractic

Chiropractic is perhaps one of the most well-known and wide-spread forms of alternative medicine. The practice if primarily concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of mechanical disorders, especially those associated with the spine. The primary chiropractic treatment technique involves manual therapy—spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) and manipulations of other joints and soft tissues.


Several controlled clinical studies or chiropractic treatments have been conducted, but results are often conflicting. Spinal manipulation, though potentially ineffective at treating conditions, may be a cost-effective for sub-acute or chronic lower back pain. However, there is not sufficient data to establish the safety of chiropractic manipulations.


Chiropractic is very established in North America and Australia, often overlapping with other manual-therapy professions like massage therapy, osteopathy, and physical therapy. Most seek chiropractic help for back and neck pain, which are considered to be the specialties of the practice. In the past twenty years, it has gained legitimacy and greater acceptance among conventional physicians and health plans in the United States.


In 2009, a review published in Prev Med stated that spinal manipulation was routinely associated with considerable harm, further reporting that there was no compelling evidence to indicate that it adequately prevented symptoms or diseases. In 2012, a systemic review found that the risk of death from manipulations to the neck outweighed any potential benefits. These statements, though bombastic, should not be disregarded. If you enjoy chiropractic, we recommend that you do so in limited quantities; rather than seeing a chiropractor every week, consider switching your appointments to every month to reduce the risk of injury.


Alternative Medicine: Knowing Your Terms

Alternative medicine is often loosely defined. It can be a set of products, a set of practices, or a set of theories believed to have the same healing effects of Western medicine. However, there are differing types of alternative healing practices. Before embarking on your own alternative medicine journey, read up on the necessary terminology to get set on the right path.


Complementary Medicine—Also known as integrative medicine, this is when alternative medicine is used in conjunction with functional medical treatment with the believe that it improves the practice.


Allopathic Medicine—This is commonly used by homeopaths. It was used to describe traditional European practice based on the four “humours”: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Allopathy refers to the use of pharmacologically active agents to treat or suppress symptoms of diseases or conditions.


CAM—Known professional as Complementary and Alternative Medicine, this practice often utilizes the terms “balance,” “whole,” and “holistic.” This is an umbrella term for alternative medicine.


Traditional Medicine—This refers to pre-scientific practices of certain cultures. It is used as both a healing tool and a as a strategy for understanding and acknowledging cultural heritage.


These definitions were generated by the writers of the Alternative Medicine Channel. Definitions vary from organization to organization. For further reading on the difficulties in defining these medicinal practices, we recommend sifting through the website of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.



The Relationship between Yoga and Alternative Medicine

Stripped down to its bare essentials, yoga is an unobtrusive exercise that can deliver an array of health benefits and preventative buffers against many types of ailments. This fact is heralded by pretty much every health professional you’ll meet. Yoga, as a primary treatment for medical conditions, is a more controversial topic that almost always depends on the individual context.


Yoga is a great complementary therapy with any number of other health treatments. Got anxiety, for example? Talk to a therapist AND sign up for a yoga class. Have gastro-intestinal distress? Start a probiotic regimen AND sign up for a yoga class. Just don’t expect two or three beginner level classes to cure your Crohn’s. It doesn’t *usually* work that way. Indeed, when yoga is prescribed as a primary treatment, it’s almost always because more widely used methods have failed, and yoga is all that’s left. Even then, it’s often more about managing the symptoms of a disease more than curing it.


The Complicated Place Yoga has in Our Culture

Yoga sometimes finds itself in a certain amount of conflict with people of faith who see yoga’s secular meditation as a threat to the power of prayer and communion with their Creator. There is a spiritual element that many people bring to yoga, but you can really bring any number of religious beliefs to the practice. There is nothing that says you can’t pray—either with a short mantra or an open dialogue—at the end of a yoga practice, for example.


There’s also a lingering tension within the yoga community itself between those who believe Americanized yoga is ruining the original art form and those who believe that these yoga purists are hoity-toity nincompoops. There are those who swear by a specific sequence of poses and those who prefer to dabble in as many different forms of yoga they can find.


There are those who find yoga to be a slightly more effective form of exercise than other types of weight resistance training, and there are those who see yoga as a crucial component to their overall health plan and ability to get through the day and week without losing it altogether.


Here’s the thing, though. No matter what place you belong to within the greater culture and general practice of yoga, there are few stories of people who practiced yoga for any real length of time without improving their health in some substantial measure.


The Many Connections Between Urgent Care and Alternative Medicine

When using the traditional, if somewhat outdated, framework of Western vs. Alternative Medicine, urgent care is clearly part of mainstream, western medicine. With few exceptions, rapid onset symptoms and conditions require direct intervention and acute care. One of the ways in which proponents of alternative medicine use urgent care is as a kind of substitute for primary care. They follow their own tenets for a healthy lifestyle, while seeking our urgent care as a kind of al a carte solution for their acute medical needs.


Seen a different way, however, urgent care is very much alternative medicine—with people of pretty much any medical background and proclivity calling it an “important alternative to emergency care.” Urgent care is also undergoing a rapid and dramatic transformation itself. From sleep disorders to allergies to physical therapy to weight loss, urgent care providers are offering a greater range of healthcare services that are more in line with chronic conditions that may respond better to long-term alternative medicine practices.


Put another way, if integrative medicine assimilates multiple medical philosophies into a holistic practice, it’s no surprise that urgent care centers have been the natural landing spot for implementing a more integrative medicine. Here are a few featured urgent care centers from around the country that are good examples of this trend:


Known as “acute alternative,” this urgent care clinic in the U.S. Virgin Islands offers a range of primary care, supplements recommendations, and a Smoothie Bar, but what they’re perhaps best known for is their accredited sleep center and sleep disorders program.


Despite their reputations, most followers of alternative medicine want to do so under the guidance of a highly qualified medical professional. This Clemente, CA urgent care practice introduced new alternative medicine services after feedback from their patients indicated a lack of services in the area.


Some urgent care centers put their connection with alternative medicine front and center. This holistic urgent care center in Scottsdale, Arizona doesn’t just incorporate aspects of alternative medicine into its practice. They “accommodate acute illness, infections, and injuries with an emphasis on natural medical remedies and modalities whenever possible.”


More and more providers are combining urgent and comprehensive care services.

This metro Denver urgent care provider is pushing the boundaries of what healthcare services can be effectively offered at their sites. Their adult and pediatric clinic locations have services that include family medicine, occupational medicine, weight loss, mental health, physical therapy, and allergy care.


Health education, especially for parents and their kids, can be hugely important for the patient and their family to consistently make the best possible healthcare decisions. Urgent care providers are positioning themselves as a natural authority and arbiter over the practices and philosophies of alternative and traditional medicine. This Coppell, Texas pediatric urgent care center clearly and succinctly lays out the differences and commonalities, between alternative, western, and integrative medicine.


Practical Tips for Alternative Medicine: Fish Oil Supplements

Fish oil is the third most commonly taken supplement in the U.S., but is it worthy of such popularity and widespread use? We do think there’s enough evidence to use fish oil—and other omega-3 supplements—as a dietary supplement for targeted results, but to simply say that fish oil is good for your heart and good for weight loss isn’t good enough. And depending on how it’s presented, it can be downright misleading.


While there is some evidence to suggest that fish oil can be good for overall heart health, the big thing it can do for you is to lower your triglyceride levels. (Triglycerides are a kind of fat cell in the blood that the body can use to store energy.) This alone should have some benefit in promoting a healthy heart and metabolic system. Still, it’s a long way to go from showing lower triglyceride levels to showing better health outcomes overall.


Take weight loss, for example. Studies show that fish oil may not help you lose weight so much as prevent and mitigate abdominal weight gain in particular. In other words, if you struggle with weight in your midsection, fish oil may be a smart supplement to take in combination with a leaner diet and healthier exercise routine. (For men and women alike, abdominal obesity is the most dangerous kind in terms of health outcomes and mortality rates.)


The studies and claims made surrounding cancer, mental health, and other health conditions are mixed and inconclusive. For cancer, in particular, you can find studies that suggest fish oil increases your risk of some cancers and decreases your risk in others. Looking for a roundup of various studies on fish oil? Check out this news resource.


Still, alternative medicine isn’t isolationist medicine. We do think taking a fish oil supplement can be right for a lot of people. On the other hand, many people also have limited resources. It might make more sense, for example, to spend your disposable income on higher-quality foods that are rich in omega-3. But maybe you can’t stand fish and aren’t all that crazy about other sources of omega-3 (walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and soy). The best use of a fish oil may not be as a diet “supplement” so much as a diet “substitute.”


The Chemistry of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There are two main types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This article does a good job of explaining the different health benefits between the two acids. Although EPA is better for many of fish oil’s purported health benefits, especially as an anti-inflammatory, it’s the less well known DHA that’s likely better for stroke prevention and brain health, as it’s believed the longer DHA chain does a better job in maintaining a healthy brain. The article also reminded us that both EPA and DHA are shown to reduce triglyceride levels, which may help explain why this effect is so widely observed.


Don’t Overdo It

There aren’t a lot of acute dangers with taking in a bunch of omega-3 fatty acids, but you still don’t want to overdo it. Excessive amounts can lead to heavy bleeding and anticoagulant properties. Rash and nosebleeds are another potential side effect. Daily consumption of up to 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids is generally recognized as safe. But again, it’s also important to account for the omega-3 that’s already in your diet.


  • Practical Tip—Burping, bad breath, heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea are also potential side effects with fish oil. Look to eliminate these side effects by freezing and/or taking the supplements with a meal. If you still experience negative side effects, you might try krill oil or isolated EPA or DHA supplements. You may also want to talk to your doctor about the trade-offs and alternative supplements and medications that can help you achieve comparable health benefits.