Guide to alternative medicine

Buzzwords such as alternative, holistic, complementary, integrative and now functional have been used to describe health care practices such as homeopathy, Ayurveda, chiropractic and acupuncture. By combining conventional and non-traditional practices, this wide range of health care treatment is growing in both popularity and prestige.

According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 40 percent of Americans report using alternative medicine therapies for pain control when prescribed medications prove to be ineffective. Benefits include less expensive treatments, fewer side effects and an increased focus on a person’s overall well being. By focusing on the mind, body and spirit, some supporters feel it is a more comprehensive alternative to conventional medicine.

alternative medicineACUPUNCTURE

Acupuncture originates from China and has been practiced there for thousands of years. It involves the insertion of very thin needles through the patient’s skin at specific points on the body. The needles are inserted to various depths. Therapeutic benefits include pain relief and alleviation from nausea caused by chemotherapy.

Acupuncture generally involves several weekly or bi-weekly treatments. Most courses consist of up to 12 sessions. A visit to an acupuncturist will involve an exam and an assessment of the patient’s condition, the insertion of needles, and advice on self-care. Most sessions last about 30 minutes.

Acupuncture points are seen by Western practitioners as places where nerves, muscles and connective tissue can be stimulated. Acupuncture practitioners say that the stimulation increases bloodflow while at the same time triggering the activity of our own body’s natural painkillers.

The use of acupuncture to alleviate pain and nausea after surgery is becoming more widespread. Even the US Air Force began teaching “Battlefield Acupuncture” to physicians deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan in early 2009.

According to the World Health Organization, acupuncture is effective for treating 28 conditions, while evidence indicates it may have an effective therapeutic value for many more. People with tension headaches and/or migraines may find acupuncture to be very effective in alleviating their symptoms, according to a study carried out at the Technical University of Munich, Germany. Another study at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center found that twice weekly acupuncture treatments relieve debilitating symptoms of xerostomia — severe dry mouth — among patients treated with radiation for head and neck cancer.

As more and more physicians accept acupuncture, a wider range of illnesses and condition are being considered for acupuncture treatment. A study found that acupuncture may help indigestion symptoms commonly experienced by pregnant women.


Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world’s oldest wholebody healing systems. It developed thousands of years ago in India.

It is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body and spirit. The primary focus of Ayurvedic medicine is to promote good health, rather than fight disease. But treatments may be recommended for specific health problems.

According to Ayurvedic theory, everything in the universe — living or not — is connected. Good health is achieved when your mind, body, and spirit are in harmony with the universe. A disruption of this harmony can lead to poor health and sickness. For followers of Ayurveda, anything that affects your physical, spiritual, or emotional well-being can cause you to be out of balance with the universe.

Treatment begins with an internal purification process, followed by a special diet, herbal remedies, massage therapy, yoga and meditation. Studies have shown reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol and reaction to stress in people who practiced these methods.

In India, Ayurveda is considered a form of medical care, equal to conventional Western medicine. Practitioners undergo state-recognized, institutionalized training. Currently, Ayurvedic practitioners are not licensed in the United States, and there is no national standard for Ayurvedic training or certification. Some of the products used in Ayurvedic medicine contain herbs, metals, minerals, or other materials that may be harmful if used improperly or without the direction of a trained practitioner.


Chiropractic is a health care profession that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system, and the effects of these disorders on general health. Chiropractic care is used most often to treat neuromusculoskeletal complaints, including but not limited to back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs and headaches.

Chiropractic physicians practice a drug-free, handson approach to health care that includes patient examination, diagnosis and treatment. Chiropractors have broad diagnostic skills and are also trained to recommend therapeutic and rehabilitative exercises, as well as to provide nutritional, dietary and lifestyle counseling.

The most common therapeutic procedure performed by doctors of chiropractic is known as “spinal manipulation.” The purpose of manipulation is to restore joint mobility by manually applying a controlled force into joints that have become hypomobile – or restricted in their movement – as a result of a tissue injury.

Tissue injury can be caused by a single traumatic event, such as improper lifting of a heavy object, or through repetitive stresses, such as sitting in an awkward position with poor spinal posture for an extended period of time. In either case, injured tissues undergo physical and chemical changes that can cause inflammation, pain, and diminished function for the sufferer. Manipulation, or adjustment of the affected joint and tissues, restores mobility, thereby alleviating pain and muscle tightness, and allowing tissues to heal.


Many of the vitamins and nutritional supplements you take each day have their roots in ancient Chinese medicine or other alternative medical treatments. Although most supplements remain unregulated in the U.S., some well-established scientific studies support the use of many popular herbal remedies. For example, fish oil is proven to reduce your risk of heart disease, and may also help treat arthritis and depression. Garlic may reduce your risk of cancer or heart disease and help lower cholesterol, and ginseng provides important benefits for heart patients and those suffering from depression. Thousands of other herbal supplements may also provide some benefits, but results are less established for most.

Despite the lack of clinical evidence for some herbal remedies, natural supplements remain the most widely used alternative treatment in the U.S. This widespread use doesn’t necessarily mean these supplements are safe for consumption, however. Some contain dangerous toxins, such as lead or mercury, and others may interact with your current medications. A number of herbal remedies are downright dangerous, and pose serious risk of heart attack, stroke or even death. Talk to your doctor before trying any new health product, and look for supplements backed by reputable scientific research, not gimmicky marketing spiels or testimonials.


Homeopathy is a system of medicine which involves treating the individual with highly diluted substances, given mainly in tablet form, with the aim of triggering the body’s natural system of healing. Based on their specific symptoms, a homeopath will match the most appropriate medicine to each patient.

Homeopathy is based on the principle that you can treat “like with like,” that is, a substance which causes symptoms when taken in large doses, can be used in small amounts to treat those same symptoms. For example, drinking too much coffee can cause sleeplessness and agitation, so according to this principle, when made into a homeopathic medicine, it could be used to treat people with these symptoms. This concept is sometimes used in conventional medicine, for example, the stimulant Ritalin is used to treat patients with ADHD, or small doses of allergens such as pollen are sometimes used to de-sensitise allergic patients. However, one major difference with homeopathic medicines is that substances are used in ultra high dilutions, which makes them non-toxic.


Hyperbaric medicine, also known as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, is the medical use of oxygen at a level higher than atmospheric pressure. The equipment required consists of a pressure chamber, which may be of rigid or flexible construction, and a means of delivering 100 percent oxygen. The operation is performed to a predetermined schedule by trained personnel who monitor the patient and may adjust the schedule as required. HBOT found early use in the treatment of decompression sickness, and has also shown great effectiveness in treating conditions such as gas gangrene and carbon monoxide poisoning. More recent research has examined the possibility that it may also have value for other conditions such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis.


Massage has become a mainstream part of the modern lifestyle, but few recognize it as a legitimate medical treatment. During a massage, therapists manipulate muscles to ease pain and tension, but some types of massage may also help improve a variety of other health conditions. Perhaps most promising is a University of Miami study showing improved immune function in HIV patients after massage therapy. Certain types of massage also ease cancer treatment symptoms and help reduce the severe pain of fibromyalgia. For professional athletes and weekend warriors, sports massage eases muscle soreness, speeds recovery and may even improve performance.

Few medical professionals associate massage with any serious health risks, although a massage that’s too intense may cause pain or discomfort. Talk to your doctor before you add massage to your wellness plan.


More than 10 percent of the U.S. population has tried meditation at some point in their lives, making it one of the most widely practiced forms of alternative medicine. During meditation, patients focus on slow, even breathing and keeping the mind clear of distraction. Some also use a trigger word or idea to help them ease into this practice, while others may even incorporate prayer or spiritual teachings. For the majority of practitioners, meditation provides a free, personalized and versatile method of stress relief that can be performed virtually anywhere and at anytime. For others, this practice may also have far-reaching health effects. And it seems there’s a growing body of scientific evidence to support its effectiveness.

According to the National Institutes of Health, meditation may improve focus and relieve the effects of attention-deficit disorder. Studies also show an improvement in asthma, pain and high blood pressure symptoms among those who meditate regularly. Because of its ability to reduce stress levels, meditation may also relieve depression, insomnia and anxiety while lowering long-term risk for disease. Patients often combine meditation with yoga or Tai Chi to enjoy additional physical and mental health benefits.


Peripheral nerves carry information to and from the brain. They also carry signals to and from the spinal cord to the rest of the body. Peripheral neuropathy means these nerves don’t work properly.

This may be damage to a single nerve or to a nerve group. Whether single or multiple nerves are affected by neuropathy, the underlying cause can often be targeted for treatment. Medications such as pain relievers and antidepressants can be prescribed to mask the problem.

A physician specializing in neuropathy can also offer a treatment program that uses nerve blocks combined with electrical stimulation. A local anesthetic is injected in three places around the ankle on both legs. You are given a pair of socks that have small electrical current throughout that is to be used 30 minutes per day at home. A program is typically eight weeks long. Patients usually go to the office twice a week to receive a total of 16 peripheral nerve block treatments. The treatment is painless, FDA cleared, and is covered by most major insurance companies, including Medicare. Published clinical trials show an 87 percent success rate.

Benefits include reduced pain and numbness, improved balance and stability, improved sleep, reduction of swelling and increased blood flow.


Reflexology, or zone therapy, involves the physical act of applying pressure to the feet, hands, or ears with specific thumb, finger, and hand techniques without the use of oil or lotion. It is based on what reflexologists claim to be a system of zones and reflex areas that they say reflect an image of the body on the feet and hands, with the premise that such work effects a physical change to the body. There is no consensus among reflexologists on how reflexology is supposed to work; a unifying theme is the idea that areas on the foot correspond to areas of the body, and that by manipulating these one can improve health through one’s qi. Reflexologists divide the body into ten equal vertical zones, five on the right and five on the left. Concerns have been raised by medical professionals that treating potentially serious illnesses with reflexology, which has no proven efficacy, could delay the seeking of appropriate medical treatment.


For decades people have relaxed and meditated to soothing sounds, including recordings of waves lapping, desktop waterfalls and wind chimes. Lately a new kind of sound therapy, often called sound healing, has begun to attract a following. Also known as vibrational medicine, the practice employs the vibrations of the human voice as well as objects that resonate — tuning forks, gongs, Tibetan singing bowls — to go beyond relaxation and stimulate healing. Music therapists are found in nearly every area of the helping professions. Some commonly found practices include developmental work (communication, motor skills, etc.) with individuals with special needs, songwriting and listening in reminiscence/orientation work with the elderly, processing and relaxation work, and rhythmic entrainment for physical rehabilitation in stroke victims. Music therapy is also used in some medical hospitals, cancer centers, schools, alcohol and drug recovery programs, psychiatric hospitals and correctional facilities.


If you’ve ever stretched and relaxed your muscles in a yoga class at the gym or a local yoga studio, you may have noticed an improvement in your flexibility and circulation. But did you know yoga also provides some serious health benefits? Studies show that regular yoga practice reduces stress, eases depression and helps control high blood pressure and diabetes symptoms. It also helps to reduce inflammation, which can improve asthma symptoms, ease back pain and even keep your heart healthier over time. Unlike traditional medical care, yoga comes with a low price tag and poses few risks, making it accessible to a wide variety of people.

More than 7 percent of people in the U.S. practice yoga, and people around the world have enjoyed this traditional treatment for thousands of years. Yoga classes combine physical postures and gentle stretching with relaxed breathing and meditation, helping to unite the mind, body and spirit for maximum health. Of course, even with its many benefits, yoga can’t replace your family doctor. Instead, try different types of yoga to complement your regular medical care plan, and ask your instructor about the best classes for your specific wellness concerns.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, approximately 38 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 years and over used some form of CAM in 2013.

Monthly’s alternative medicine featured doctors & practitioners:

Ageless Acupuncture: Cheryl McCarthy, L.Ac. Dipl.Ac., MAcOM has been treating patients in the Lowcountry since 2006. She treats all types of pain including fibromyalgia, migraines, back pain, tennis/golfers elbow, shoulder problems and sciatica as well as digestive problems, women’s health issues including fertility and menopause symptoms, post-stroke, stress, anxiety and more. She has offices in Okatie (Joint-Effort Wellness Center) and Beaufort (Beaufort Chiropractic). 843-505-0321.

DayBreak of the Lowcountry: The only homecare provider offering holistic care. DayBreak partners with local practitioners of natural medicine to help heal the entire person: body, mind, & spirit. Feel the DayBreak difference. 843-415-3338,

FACES DaySpa: The benefits of massage are well documented: lower blood pressure, decreased blood sugar levels, decreased stress, increased immune function. A healthy lifestyle can help to prevent many of the chronic conditions that plague us as a nation, and in the long run, it’s more effective to prevent a disease from happening than to treat one once it does. 843-785-3075,

Good Health Unlimited: Natural Nutrition is primarily about promoting health through low-fat diets rich in whole, natural foods, but it also encourages using natural complimentary healthcare and reducing environmental hazards wherever possible. What we eat and fail to eat is absolutely, undeniably one of the central factors in establishing, improving, or maintaining excellent, feel-great, live-long health. 843-681-7701,

Hilton Head Island Spa & Wellness: Alternative healing for the body, mind and spirit. The services they offer are natural ways for healing and preventative care. Offering migraines and sinus relief; back, hip and neck pain; auto accidents and emotional trauma. Our bones, muscles and tissues hold the memory or of the experience. Releasing the memory releases pain. 843-785-6245,

Hyperbaric Therapy of the Lowcountry utilizes state-of-the-art, fully computerized, hyperbaric technology. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used internationally in the treatment of a wide range of conditions. Complimentary consultation. 843-681-3300,

Integrative Pain Relief: Beth Schoon LAc,LMT, RYT recently moved to the Hilton Head area. She is a licensed acupuncturist, massage therapist and yoga teacher. She is nationally certified in Acupuncture by the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Her business and focus is Integrative Pain Relief. Located at the Jiva Yoga Center, 1032 William Hilton Parkway. 843-422-2592,

Island Medical Spa: CranioScral therapy is a light-touch approach that can create dramatic improvements in your life. It releases tensions deep in the body to relieve pain and dysfunction. By freeing the central nervous system to perform at its best, CranioSacral Therapy naturally eliminates pain and stress, strengthens your resistance to disease and enhances your health and well-being. 843-689-3322,

Kim’s Yin & Yang Acupuncture: Acupuncture is good for everything from top to bottom and bottom to top, including internal organs and the mind. Acupuncture heals pain and disease naturally by promoting good circulation of your blood and Qi. Don’t hesitate. 843-815-2221,

Low Country Neuropathy: Peripheral Neuropathy is a condition that affects nearly 20 million Americans. It usually begins in the feet and lower legs, but over time, can advance to the hands and fingers. Low Country Neuropathy offers a proven treatment that is covered by Medicare and most private insurance plans. Atul Gupta, MD, who was voted Best Doctor and Medical Practice in Bluffton, believes in patient education, compassion and the highest quality of care. 843-836-5111,

Main Street Health Center: As a functional medicine practitioner, Dr. Joseph S. Haven uses an extensive history, specialized lab testing and the patient’s biochemical individually to find the underlying stressors, imbalances and deficiencies that have caused the body to stray from homeostasis. From this information, the appropriate nutritional supplementation, dietary changes, and medical referrals are made. 843-342-3333,