Alternative health care offers options
Jun 05, 2011 (St. Cloud Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
If you think the only way to stay healthy is by popping a pill or going under the knife, think again.
Complementary and alternative medicine such as yoga and acupuncture are gaining acceptance as a way of maintaining or improving one's health and wellness.
"I believe in balance. I've always tried to work very well with both Western medicine and complementary health, and I think everybody needs both," said Dr. Susan Saetre of StillPointe Natural Health Center in Sartell.
Complementary and alternative medicine practices (CAM) are often grouped into broad categories, such as natural products, mind-body medicine, and manipulative and body-based practices.
Jerry Wellik is a St. Cloud State University special education professor who suffered from severe headaches. But ever since the Vietnam veteran started Qigong almost a decade ago, he has felt much better, he said. Qigong combines meditation, breathing techniques, movement and visualization to promote healing and a sense of well-being.
The 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included a comprehensive survey of CAM use by Americans, showed that about 38 percent of adults use CAM, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
"I think it's coming to light that there are different options for people (to achieve wellness) and that we should explore our options without throwing anything out necessarily," said Merri Weis, a co-owner of Mind, Body & Spirit in downtown St. Cloud.
Mind-body practices focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body and behavior, with the intent to use the mind to affect physical functioning and promote health. Examples include meditation, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, tai chi and yoga.
"Yoga is really good for virtually any condition that you may have. The different styles of yoga, the use of yoga as therapy, the use of breathing in yoga ... makes it very adaptable," said Beth Wengler, a yoga instructor at Mill Stream Wellness Arts Studio in St. Joseph.
In the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, it was reported acupuncture had been used by 1.4 percent of adults and 0.2 percent of children, according to NCCAM.
"Acupuncture is a very old, healing art," Saetre said. "We can access lines of energy of the body -- called meridians -- which can turn down that 'heat' or the pain, and 'rebalance' the body."
StillPointe Natural Health Center has been providing chiropractic and wellness care such as acupuncture, massage and nutrition counseling in the St. Cloud area for more than 15 years.
Manipulative and body-based practices focus primarily on the structures and systems of the body, including the bones and joints, soft tissues, and circulatory and lymphatic systems. Spinal manipulation by chiropractors and massage therapy fall in this category.
"Many physicians, although not all, are more open to offering some of these different treatments ... much more open to looking at some of these alternative treatments for certain conditions," said Dr. Julie Johnson, a family physician at HealthPartners Central Minnesota Clinics. "For example, we have a chiropractor on staff at HealthPartners in our Sartell office."
Some practices prompt more caution by those who practice traditional medicine.
The CAM category of natural products includes a variety of herbal medicines (also known as botanicals), vitamins and minerals; many are sold over the counter as dietary supplements, according to the national center.
"If I have somebody who is taking a medication for, say, seizures ... I would be very, very cautious about having them use any over-the-counter supplements because of how it might interact with medications they're on," Johnson said.
Dr. Thomas Sult of Willmar practices "functional medicine," an applied nutritional and biochemical approach to health.
"I look at the person, I look at their various risk factors and try to optimize their diet and supplements and lifestyle to their particular situation," Sult said.
Sult is a family physician who is board-certified in holistic medicine. Holistic medicine is a form of healing that considers the whole person -- mind, body and spirit -- for optimal health.
"The problem is that most people subscribe to the 'nutrient of the month' club," Sult said. "People jump from sort of like magical cure to magical cure, and any of us who are into nutritional medicine long enough you get way past the magical cure. There's no magic."
People usually pay for CAM services and products themselves, i.e., "out of pocket." Even if they have health insurance (the 2007 NHIS found that about one-third of uninsured respondents younger than age 65 used CAM), there is a good chance that their plan does not cover most, or any, CAM therapies, according to NCCAM.
"I don't think that just because the powers that be say they will insure something means that it is necessarily the right thing (for you)," Weis said. "I think it's unfortunate that somewhere out there somebody is deciding what is the best thing for someone else's health."
Coverage of CAM therapies is relatively limited compared with coverage of conventional therapies because, in part, of a lack of scientific evidence regarding the cost-effectiveness of CAM therapies, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
"I would never say that we don't need Western medicine; we absolutely do. But I do think that we need to be our own advocate. I think everyone is different, so what resonates (or works) for one person may not with another," Weis said.
"I think we all have to do what feels right to us. If you've been 'doctoring' for a long time and you're not getting any better or anywhere, then it might be time to start looking outside the box and see what your options are."
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