Modern life has its stresses and strains and, with the rapid changes in the way we work, it can all seem too much sometimes.
But it doesn’t have to be. Many people are now looking for a more holistic way of re-balancing their lives through complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs).
These therapies, in addition to conventional medicines, have given people more choice in dealing with the stresses life throws at us.
There has been an explosion in CAMs over the last 30 years as people seek a better work/life balance through therapies such as massage, yoga, reiki, and nutritional methods.
Stress is one of the many factors recognised in a person’s well-being by the Scottish Government and its advice is for people to discuss ALL possible options with their doctor.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We recognise some people may find some complementary or alternative therapies offer relief for their conditions.
“However, it is for individual NHS boards to decide which remedies they make available based on the needs of their resident population, in line with the national guidance.
“We would encourage anyone who thinks they may benefit from alternative therapy to discuss this with their GP in the first instance to ensure they receive the right treatment for their circumstances.”
NHS Scotland said there is no hard and fast rule for defining CAMs even though the words are often used as a single category.
In America the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) defines complementary as a non-mainstream practice used together with conventional medicine.
And when a non-mainstream practice is used instead of conventional medicine, it’s considered alternative.
There can be overlap; for example, aromatherapy may sometimes be used as a complementary treatment or as an alternative treatment.
A number of CAMs treatments, including, homeopathy, acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractic and herbal medicines, are typically used with the intention of treating health conditions.
In deciding whether or not to use complementary or alternative treatments people need to understand whether a treatment is effective for their needs.
It is worth noting that some CAMs or treatments are based on principles and an evidence base not recognised by the majority of independent scientists.
However, others have been proven to work for certain health conditions. There is evidence, for example, that osteopathy and acupuncture are effective for treating lower back pain, as is chiropractic treatment.
When a person uses any health remedy – including a CAM – and experiences an improvement, this may be due to the placebo effect.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides guidance to the NHS on effective treatments that are value for money.
It recommends treatment in a limited number of circumstances. Among these are the Alexander technique for Parkinson’s disease; ginger and acupressure for reducing morning sickness; acupuncture and manual therapy for lower back pain.
A NICE spokeswoman said: “We look at complementary therapies in the context of managing or treating a specific condition, and producing evidence-based recommendations on how effective it is.
“For example, we do not believe the use of acupuncture or reflexology should be encouraged for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.
“But for antenatal care, we recognise the use of ginger or P6 (wrist) acupressure may be effective in reducing symptoms of nausea.
“In the absence of NICE guidance, local authorities are responsible for making decisions on what treatments and therapies to fund in their area.”
NHS Scotland advises people to consult their doctor with any health condition first. It’s particularly important to talk to your doctor if you have a pre-existing health condition or are pregnant. Some CAMs may interact with medicines that you are taking so it is important to make this clear.
The practice of conventional medicine is regulated by the law, which ensures that practitioners are properly qualified and operate to a certain professional standard, but this does not apply to CAMs.
The only exception to this is osteopathy and chiropractic – which are regulated in the same way.
In choosing a CAM therapy it is important to find a practitioner who will carry out the treatment in a way that is acceptable to you.