A list of alternatives

April 05, 1994|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Sun Staff Writer

The following is a list of increasingly common forms of alternative medicine and holistic therapies.

* Acupuncture: Alleviates pain and can increase immune response by balancing the flow of the vital energy throughout the body. To do this, needles are inserted along lines of the body called meridians that correspond to energy pathways rather than nerve pathways. By releasing a flow of "chi," or healing energy, acupuncture provides effective treatment for numerous conditions. It is used primarily in the West to treat chronic pain.

* Acupressure, or Shiatsu (the Japanese term for "finger pressure"): Uses the pressure of fingers and hands, instead of needles, on various points of the body in order to release "energy blocks" and relieve certain ailments. Practitioners believe the therapy alleviates pain and influences the functioning of internal organs and body systems.

* Homeopathy: A low-cost, non-toxic system of therapeutics started in Germany in the early 1800s. It is often effective in treating such chronic conditions as allergies and disorders that are sometimes psychosomatic, such as asthma and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as recurrent infections, the common cold and the flu. The theory behind this system is that "like cures like." A homeopathic remedy uses a small quantity of whatever toxin is infecting the body in order to stimulate the body to fight it more effectively.

* Herbal therapy: The most ancient form of health care. The use of herbs has been documented as treatment for conditions such as premenstrual syndrome, insomnia and indigestion.

* Ayurveda: A traditional system of medicine in India, Ayurvedic medicine combines natural therapies -- such as diet, exercise, meditation, herbs, massage, sunlight and controlled breathing -- with a personalized approach to the treatment of disease. It places equal emphasis on body, mind and spirit.

* Aromatherapy: Treatment that uses the essential oils extracted from plants and herbs to treat condi

tions ranging from infections and skin disorders to stress and immune deficiencies.

* Naturopathic medicine: Uses the body's inherent ability to heal itself. Naturopathic physicians aid the healing process by incorporating a variety of alternative health methods based on the patient's individual needs. Practitioners consider a patient's diet, lifestyle, work and personal history when determining the treatment regimen.

* Chiropractic medicine: Through adjustment of the spine and joints, chiropractors can influence the body's nervous system and natural defense mechanisms to alleviate pain and improve general health. It is used to treat back problems, headaches and other injuries and traumas.

* Reflexology: A therapy based on the premise that reflex arcs in the hands and feet correspond to every part of the body, including organs and glands, and that these parts can be affected by stimulating the appropriate reflex areas. Reflexology relieves stress and tension, stimulates deep relaxation, improves circulation and promotes the unblocking of nerve impulses to normalize and balance the body.

* Rolfing: The popular name for a system of body work officially named "structural integration," rolfing is based on the idea that human function is improved when the segments of the body (head, torso, pelvis, legs, feet) are properly aligned.

* Magnetic Field Therapy: A system that explores the relationship between electromagnetic energy and the body. Practitioners use magnets, electrical stimulation and electromagnetic therapy devices to treat pain, to counter the effects of stress and to aid in the healing of broken bones.

This list was compiled with the help of Dr. Brian Berman, assistant professor of family medicine and anesthesiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center; Baltimore pharmacist Brian Sanderoff, host of WCBM's "Your Prescription for Health," and "Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide," a publication by the Burton Goldberg Group.

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