Jul 3, 2018
category: Medicine


Complementary and alternative medicine refers to a complex group of interventions in medical and health care that are not presently regarded as elements in the conventional medicine. Complementary medicine has been used extensively over the years in different parts of the world. In the United States about 38% of all Americans reportedly use one kind of these alternative therapies or another (Hagen 2011). The availability and easy accessibility of these therapies is one of the factors that have led to their popularization. However, the most important of these factors is the importance that people have attached to these theories in solving many health problems some of which are identified by the conventional medicine as challenging, for example, cancer pain management.

Complementary therapies do not replace the conventional medical and clinical practice and have therefore been widely accepted and even integrated into the healthcare system. Aromatherapy has been used to minimize patients` discomfort after surgery(Kelner et al. 2004). Many hospitals around the world have accepted their importance in provision of life saving health solutions. Some therapies grouped under complementary medicine have scientific evidence. For example, the mind and body integration in yoga has been scientifically proven to affect pain perception and emotional stress. Alternative therapies are of various categories including energy therapies, mind-body integration, body manipulation, biological therapies and alternative medical systems. This paper aims at exploring the thesis that complementary and alternative therapies in medicine are capable of saving life. Through an evaluative analysis of articles written about the topic, the paper will bring out the basis of this argument with sufficient evidence.

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Alternative Medicine Offers Safer Solutions

Healthcare systems around the world have always faced crises and challenges that warrant change of approach and perception (Kelner et al. 2004). Over the years, the burden of health care has been increasing with the advent of new diseases such as cancers, HIV and other terminal illnesses. Further, the quest for healthcare has also increased following the inception of initiatives to develop health seeking behaviors among the communities. These have led to a relative inadequacy of healthcare professionals. A solution therefore has always been welcomed to help manage the increased workload. As a result, alternative therapies have been accepted as important in solving this problem and ensuring that those health problems that can be managed using these therapies are involving less of the conventional medical practitioners and resources. This is not only cost effective but also helps to establish an easy and cheaper way of solving health problems. Moreover, as Kelner et al. (2004) point out, medical professionals will be involved in saving more lives (Kelner et al.).

Alternative Medicine Has a Holistic Approach

There is evidence of the great potential of complementary and alternative medicine when combined with conventional therapies. These alternative therapies have been known to allow patients to effectively manage cancer pain without the fear of drugs` side effects and dependency (Greene et al. 35–45). This article represents a study involving five groups of patients in North Carolina and Massachusetts in America. These were the patients who sought help from the alternative therapy providers. As a result, they felt better after the therapy. According to the results of this study, all the participants derived a variety of benefits from these therapies. These benefits are physical fitness and relief, psychological relief, social health and also spiritual healing.

It is clear that a patient’s overall health is catered for by these complementary therapies. The therapies contributed positively to the patient`s physical, psychological, social and spiritual health and therefore cover all the elements of health as stated in the WHO definition of health. In addition, CAM has a positive impact on patients` health and allows them to live healthy and solve their health issues with less side effects and restrictions. This means that there is indeed a great part played by the complementary and alternative therapies in improving health and hence saving lives.

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Manipulative Therapies and Pain Management

Pain related to diseases like cancer is a challenge even to conventional medicine. Drugs developed to provide pain relief are costly and have side effects such as addiction and gastrointestinal problem. This makes many patients avoid these drugs and the results can lead to loss of life. Acupuncture is a Chinese manipulative therapy. The therapy involves inserting fine needles into the skin of a patient at specific acupoints. This stimulates energy balance and help to control pain by enhancing secretion of endorphins and enkephalins (Hagen 2011). A study published in 2001 focused on 18 patients who had undergone radiation therapy for head and neck malignancies. Patients were prescribed drugs therapy when they began to experience radiation-induced side effects such as dry mouth. These drugs, however, seemed not to produce the desired effects in many of the patients. During oncology follow-up appointments, acupuncture was offered as palliation for those patients who were experiencing side effects not resolved by the prescribed drugs. Acupuncture was provided to three auricular points and one digital point bilaterally. Sixteen out of the eighteen patients subjectively reported better salivation after acupuncture. The researchers reported that half of the study participants showed at least a 10-point improvement in the Xerostomia Inventory model (Johnstone et al. 354).

Other manipulative therapies such as chiropractic therapy have also been studied with similar results in short-term and long-term management of serious health problems. A different study conducted in 1995 among 700 participants suffering from low back pains indicated that after random assignment of physical therapy and chiropractic therapy, those who received the latter reported greater satisfaction after the therapy period and throughout a 5-year follow-up period. These two studies offer valid results to support the argument that the use of alternative therapies can enhance the quality of life of patients through pain management and save life as a result. The study concerning acupuncture uses a valid xerostomia inventory model to assess the outcomes. The second study, however, has a control group so the results can be compared (Dy et al. 4812).

Perceived Benefits: Patients’ Point of View

The benefits of complementary and integrative therapies may be modest but have been shown to offer more satisfaction than usual medical interventions. Although most studies do not provide follow-up data, the documented medical benefits at the end of treatment indicated a clear advantage of these therapies over the usual interventions. In a study conducted to analyze patients’ attitudes towards the use of the alternative therapies, results shown by patients suffering from headaches and low-back pain uncovered that almost 85% of all the respondents have used alternative therapies to manage their problems, with most of them suffering from lower-back pain. The most widely used therapies among the respondents were acupuncture (71%), back massage (56%) and thermotherapy (51%). Nearly all the respondents reported having used acupuncture for both conditions (Gaul et al. 89). These results indicate the patients’ attitudes towards the integrated therapies. The fact that most of the respondents have used alternative therapies and have a positive attitude towards them indicates that they recognize the importance of these therapies in saving life and ensuring healthy living.

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The Use of Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Generally, patients and family use alternative therapies in order to find ways of improving their health and to ensure that the quality of life is improved for themselves and their families. Reducing symptoms related to chronic and terminal illnesses has been a challenge in the modern medicine. The drugs being developed to solve this challenge are costly and have serious side effects. (Barnes and Bloom 2-4). The perception that many patients and families have concerning these therapies is also a motivational factor. They perceive them as being holistic in their approach, providing a health solution and changing their whole experience and opinion about their own health (Barnes and Bloom 2-4), (Greene et al. 35–45). Before modern medicine, people had their own ways of solving health problems. Some of these ways have been scientifically studied and proven to be effective. As these form part of the approved alternative therapies in many parts of the world, many people tend to choose them due to their relationship with traditions. The overall usage of CAM has increased in many parts of the world; one in three American adults reportedly used some form of complementary therapy in 2002 (Kelner et al.). Many people believe that combining CAM with the conventional medicine will enhance quality of life, especially to those who are suffering from terminal illnesses. This saves them from discomforts caused by unmanaged pain and also help them and their families enjoy peace of mind. This leaves family members of a patient psychologically healthy with less pressure put on them while caring for the patient.

Complementary Medicine and Disease Prevention

In addition to providing health solutions, most complementary therapies have been linked to healthy lifestyle enjoyed by those who are not suffering from any disease. This is part of the primary disease prevention measures and becomes a major motivation for the integration of these alternatives into the conventional healthcare system. The therapies have no side effects and can be used for long with maximized benefits. More than half of those using these interventions are likely to be using them even longer (Greene et al. 35–45). This indicates that the role of complementary medicine in saving lives goes beyond the curative and rehabilitative aspect of health to include the preventive aspect.


Complementary and alternative medicine is a new aspect being integrated into the conventional healthcare. Most of the therapies are traditional, having been practiced with desirable results for long before the modern medicine came to exist. The benefits of most of the discussed therapies have been scientifically proven over the years helping the patients use these therapies successfully and improve their health. Integration has been beneficial in curative medicine whereby conditions such as muscular sprains and joint pains have been effectively managed through interventions such as acupuncture and chiropractic therapy. It has also been effective in rehabilitative and palliative medicine, especially in cancer pain management. Further, the therapies have been effective in lifestyle management and ensuring healthy living hence contributing to disease prevention. These studies effectively support the argument that the use of complementary and alternative medicine is essential in saving life. Although there is a limited research showing the long-term effects and benefits of most of these interventions, the immediate patients’ response and attitudes towards the therapies adequately support the argument.

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