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Complementary/Alternative Health Care

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There are a wide variety of treatments available in the field of alternative or complementary therapies.  Complementary therapies are those that are used to complement traditional medicine.  Alternative therapies can be used instead of traditional medicine.

“A long time ago, the (Western) medical profession separated the head from the body”….

  quoted by Dr. Mehmet Oz

This approach to health care focuses on prevention, rather than “reactive” care.  Practitioners take a holistic approach, that is, the whole person (mind, body and spirit) is considered when treating a health issue.Canadians are visiting alternative and complementary health care providers more and more as the population ages.  Some commonly used practices in this country include:  chiropractic, body/energy therapies, relaxation techniques, massage, prayer, herbal therapies, special diet, folk remedies, acupuncture, yoga, self-help groups, lifestyle diets and homeopathy.

Most complementary therapies are not covered under OHIP, but are sometimes covered under private health insurance benefits.  Make sure that you are dealing with a qualified and registered practitioner.

There are many practices originating from many different cultures.  While we cannot make a comprehensive list here of all the services you can find of this nature, we should point out that other ways of healing are important also.  Examples include; meditation, laughter, music, art, play, diet, sleep, nutrition, exercise, and spirituality.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese art based on the theory that Chi or Qi energy flows along meridians in the body, and can be unblocked or re-programmed by inserting fine needles at specific points.  Acupuncture is used to treat conditions such as, but not limited to asthma, addiction, allergies, arthritis, anxiety, blood pressure, depression, problems with the digestive system, etc.

Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils (extracts or essences) from flowers, herbs, and trees to promote health and well-being.  Aromatherapy can help with symptoms, can affect your mood, or help alleviate or temporarily eliminate stress or other psychological factors.

Ayurveda (meaning “the science of life”) is an alternative medical system that has been practiced primarily in the Indian subcontinent for 5,000 years.  Ayurveda includes diet and herbal remedies and emphasizes the use of body, mind, and spirit in disease prevention and treatment.  It does this through a variety of cleansing and rejuvenating treatments and practices that can include diet, exercise, meditation and massage.  Yoga is part of the ayurvedic tradition, too – when you perform some yoga positions, you’re engaging in a physical and spiritual exercise that is rooted in ayurvedic philosophy.

Chiropractic (word comes from ancient Greek word for “done by hand”) is a system that focuses on the relationship between bodily structure (primarily that of the spine) and function, and how that relationship affects the preservation and restoration of health.

Energy Therapy - There are a variety of approaches to healing that involve energy flow in the body.  Some are touch related (see massage therapies) and some are body and/or energy work such as biofeedback, reflexology, reiki, shiatsu, and gem-stone therapy.  The general principal behind these practices is that blockages are cleared from the body’s energy meridians.  Clearing these blockages can help clear up physical and mental problems that are preventing optimum functioning.

Homeopathic medicine is a system based on the belief that “like cures like” meaning that small, highly diluted quantities of medicinal substances are given to cure symptoms, when the same substances given at higher or more concentrated doses would actually cause those symptoms.

Massage therapy or massotherapy is the manipulation of muscle and connective tissue to enhance function of those tissues and promote relaxation and well-being.  There are a variety of techniques and practitioners practicing them, for example; acupressure, bio-dynamic, chair massages, cranio-sacral, deep muscle therapy, deep tissue, healing touch, integrative manual therapy, joint mobilization, kinesiology, reflexology, reiki, shiatsu, Swedish massage, therapeutic touch.

Natural Health Products are defined as vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, homeopathic medicines, traditional medicines (such as traditional Chinese medicines), probiotics, and other products like amino acids and essential fatty acids.  Natural health products are available for self care and self selection, and do not require a prescription to be sold.  In Canada, natural health products, also referred to as complementary medicines or traditional remedies, are subject to Natural Health Products Regulations.

Naturopathic Medicine is a distinct primary health care system that blends modern scientific knowledge with traditional and natural forms of medicine.  Naturopathic medicine is the art and science of disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention using natural therapies including botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, naturopathic manipulation, traditional Chinese medicine / acupuncture, and lifestyle counselling.

Phototherapy (light therapy) for sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder and depression involves spending about 20 minutes a day in front of a light-box, particularly in the winter months when mood and energy levels can be affected by lack of light.

Yoga has been shown to alleviate stress and, at the physical level, has been seen to be useful in the treatment of those who suffer conditions that affect or are affected by posture, such as backache and arthritis.

Links or Useful Resources for COMPLEMENTARY/ALTERNATIVE HEALTH CARE:
Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND) - www.cand.ca
Mood Disorders Association of Ontario - www.mdao.ca
Government of Canada - www.canadabusiness.ca