|A growing number of people use complementary remedies to treat everyday illnesses and minor accidents. These can also be used at home to speed recovery after first aid treatment, to relieve pain, and to calm the mind. This section gives an overview of some popular therapies, discusses what conditions they may be suitable for, and some remedies likely to be found in the home.
A BALANCED APPROACH
Most complementary practitioners treat the patient as a whole rather than just treating the physical symptoms of an illness. Emotional and spiritual health are considered to be just as important as physical health, and all need to be in a state of balance for a person to be truly well. The aim of treatment is to encourage the patient’s powers of self healing.
A first consultation is likely to take at least an hour as the practitioner builds up a complete picture to determine your condition and the appropriate remedy. You will be asked questions concerning medical history, diet, and lifestyle and perhaps your moods, likes, and dislikes. The number of sessions usually depends on the nature of condition. Always inform your doctor if you are having this treatment because some medicines may interact with complementary remedies.
Complementary remedies are readily available from health food stores and pharmacies, but like their prescription counterparts should always be kept out of the reach of children because they may contain harmful ingredients.
Aromatherapy is a type of herbal medicine that uses concentrated plant essences known as essential oils to improve emotional and physical health. Essential oils are massaged into the skin or inhaled through the nose, and molecules within them enter the bloodstream. Scents released by the oils act on certain parts of the brain and in theory an aroma might affect stress levels, mood, metabolism, and libido.
Most essential oils are extracted by steam distillation. Plant material is heated until it vaporizes. The essential oil floats on top and is skimmed off and bottled. The most common form of aromatherapy is to massage diluted oils (combined with carrier oils such as almond or sunflower) into the skin. Inhalations are though to be highly effective because smell receptors in the nose have direct links with the brain. Vaporizers and scented baths are also popular.
Aromatherapy is mainly used to treat stress-related conditions such as headache, anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness. Various oils may also beneficial for digestive complaints (including indigestion, flatulence, and diarrhea); muscular aches and pains; skin problems such as acne, burns, stings, and eczema; problems such as cystitis and yeast infection; and respiratory disorders (including coughs, colds, sinusitis, and catarrh). Useful oils to have in stock include lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary, sandalwood, and clary sage. Pay attention to instructions for dilution, and note that many oils are unsuitable for use on children. Some oils are unsafe to use during pregnancy or if you suffer from high blood pressure, and use inhalations with care if you have asthma or are prone to nosebleeds.
A well-stocked complementary medicine chest might include: herbal medicine such as Echinacea, comfrey, St. John’s wort; essential oils such as lavender, tea tree and eucalyptus; Bach’s rescue remedy and various homeopathic preparations.
BACH FLOWER REMEDIES
These remedies were developed in the 1932 by Dr. Edward Bach, who believed that flowers possessed healing properties that could be used to treat emotional problems and restore physical and mental well-being. Dr. Bach identified seven emotional categories (fearfulness, uncertainty, lack of interest in present circumstances, loneliness, over-sensitivity, despair and despondency, and over-concern for others’ well-being), under which he grouped 38 remedies, which were developed primarily for self-help use.
Flower remedies are made by infusing or boiling plant material in spring water then preserving in alcohol, and are now available from all over the world. They are mainly used for dealing with emotional problems and stress. The compound Rescue Remedy is taken for shock, panic, and hysteria, and is often found in home.
Herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years throughout the world to treat disease and promote well-being. Many pharmaceutical drugs, such as aspirin and digoxin, are derived from isolated plant extracts, but herbalists believe that the therapeutic effects of plants are greater when the whole plant is used.
While herbs are dried and processed under strict conditions to form a variety of pills, syrups, infusions, creams, and ointments. Many of these preparations are now available from health food stores and pharmacies. Often, herbal medicines contain a number of herbs, each effective at relieving one particular symptom of an illness. Herbal remedies are used for a variety of conditions including stress, fatigue, sleep disturbance, coughs and colds, skin complaints, and menopausal symptoms. They should be avoided in pregnancy and during breastfeeding unless specific advice regarding safety has been obtained from a trained herbalist. Care should be taken if suffering from high blood, pressure diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, or glaucoma. Useful herbal preparations for the home include comfrey, marigold, echinacea, St.John’s wort, feverfew, slippery elm, dong quai (for women), oil of evening primrose, ginseng, valerian, and chamomile. Herbal treatments are not free from side effects, and may interact with conventional medication. It is essential that you inform your herbalist and your doctor of any preparations being taken.
This is a popular system of medicine based on the principle of “like cures like,” meaning that the treatment is similar in substance to the illness it is relieving. The theory is that many symptoms experienced during an illness are a consequence of the body’s own defense mechanisms attempting to cure the disease. By giving a substance that mimics the illness, the body’s ability to fight off the condition is boosted.
Homeopathic remedies are derived from many sources—vegetable, plant, and mineral—and are prepared by making a solution of the original substance and diluting it, a process known as potentization. The remedy is shaken rapidly after each dilution. One drop of the original solution is added to 99 drops of water to produce a solution with a 2c strength, and so on. Most remedies are 6c or 30c potency.
According to homeopathic theory, the more diluted the remedy, the more potent it is considered to be. It seems likely that by the time the most dilute solutions are made up, there will be virtually no active ingredient left, and there is a theory that the water used to dilute the substance retains an imprint of the active ingredient, allowing it to exert its therapeutic effect. This theory is still open to debate but there is mounting evidence that homeopathy is safe, and can be an effective therapy for a wide range of conditions, often used with conventional medical treatment. Many homeopathic practitioners are also medically qualified.
Homeopathy can be used to treat a range of physical and psychological complaints, such as coughs and colds; digestive disorders; asthma and allergies; burns, cuts, and bruises; skin rashes; menstrual and menopausal problems; anxiety and mild depression. Basic remedies, in the form of pills, ointments, and tinctures, are readily available in pharmacies and health food stores and can be used for simple maladies and first aid. Long-standing conditions such as eczema are best treated by individual remedies prescribed by a qualified homeopath.
Homeopathic remedies kept at home might include arnica, aconite, apis, carbo veg., graphites, hypericum, pulsatilla, sulphur, and silica. When taking pills, do not touch them: tap them out into the container lid or onto a clean teaspoon. Symptoms may briefly worsen after you start treatment, thought to be an effect of your immune system becoming activated. Remedies should be stored in tightly sealed containers in a cool, dark place, away from essential oils and perfumes.
Naturopathy, or natural medicine, first developed in the late 19th century, and was based on ancient beliefs in the ability of the body to heal itself, given the right circumstances. It is a multi-disciplinary approach that uses noninvasive therapies to improve underlying health so that the patient is less susceptible to infection, rather than treating symptoms directly. The most commonly used therapies include nutrition (including vitamin and mineral supplementation) and fasting, hydrotherapy, massage, osteopathy, herbalism, homeopathy, relaxation therapies, yoga, and counseling. The aim is to support what is termed the “triad of health”—the body’s musculoskeletal system, its internal biochemistry, and emotional well-being.
A naturopath may use a wide range of tests to build up a picture of your physical and emotional well being. Tests may include a routine medical, X-rays, blood tests, and sweat on hair analysis. Treatment is tailored to the individual’s needs and will be catabolic (cleansing, to eliminate toxins) or anabolic (aiming to build up the system).
Naturopathy may be particularly beneficial for relieving stress and depression, tiredness, high blood pressure, digestive problems, skin conditions, asthma, and arthritis. Many of the principles advocated by naturopaths, such as the importance of regular exercise and a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and deep breathing, have long been part of mainstream medical advice.
IN THE PANTRY
Different foods have been used for centuries to treat illness and maintain good health. Sometimes considered a part of folk medicine, the traditional beliefs, practices, and materials used in every culture that are designed to maintain well-being and fight disease in the absence of conventional medicine. Advice has been handed down from generation to generation to promote healing by supporting underlying good health, and is still used today because it works. Common conditions that respond well to home treatment include headaches, stress, anxiety and depression, respiratory disorders, skin problems, digestive problems, some forms of arthritis, premenstrual syndrome, and menopause. Minor first aid conditions such as small burns, cuts, bruises, stings, and sprains can also be safely treated. Serious disorders require medical attention.
Manny common foodstuffs used to protect against illness are now being shown to have beneficial effects for health. Garlic, for example, may reduce levels of unhealthy cholesterol in the blood. Food can also be safely used with conventional medicine.
Traditional home remedies include onions for gastric infections, circulatory disorders, bronchitis and boils; garlic for respiratory and circulatory problems; and cabbage poultices to relieve the pain and inflammation of arthritis and to alleviate swollen, tender breast in nursing mothers. Honey is taken to soothe sore throats or added to water to treat conjunctivitis. Lemon juice fights infection, yogurt treats yeast infection, cranberry juice is a urinary system bactericide and treatment for cystitis. Apply vinegar to stings to reduce swelling; add mustard powder to a footbath to treat colds and headaches; rub oil into the scalp of cucumber or a clod teabag on each eyelid will reduce swelling. To alleviate a hangover, many people swear by eating a grapefruit.