Hope Springs Eternal: Complementary Medicine

medicine-freddaIt is debilitating- going from one doctor to another, trying to find that one cure that will put an end to your medical ordeal. Sometimes it just gets frustrating trying out different health care approaches and still not getting what you expect from them. So just before you lose that last tinge of hope left in your body, you might want to consider this- complementary medicine.
Traditional medicine may be a popular choice, but nowadays, there are non-mainstream options you can try. Here, we’ll give you a lowdown of everything you need to know about complementary medicine.

What is complementary medicine?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines complementary as “completing something else or making it better.” True enough, complementary medicine refers to a wide array of health care methods that could be used together with conventional or traditional medicine.
There are three types:

1. Natural products

While a balanced intake of the three food groups go, grow, and glow is necessary for one’s nutritional well-being, we cannot dismiss the fact that in spite of this, deficiencies still occur to the body. Thus, there are attempts to address the weaknesses of the body through the use of natural products like herbal medicines, probiotics, vitamins and minerals, and dietary supplements.
The most common of which, according to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), was the fish oil. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) notes that in its comprehensive survey on the Americans’ use of complementary health approaches, “17.7 percent of American adults had used a dietary supplement other than vitamins and minerals in the past year. These products were the most popular complementary health approach in the survey.”[1]

2. Mind approaches

They say a sound mind is as important as a sound body. There have been numerous studies that claim the powerful connection between physical fitness and mental health. Therefore, therapies like meditation and hypnosis can sometimes prove to be beneficial to oneself.

3. Body approaches

The healing touch has been around for ages. This approach is not fairly new to man. The body approach is often combined to mental concentration for an optimum healing effect. Examples of which are tai chi, yoga, massage, and chiropractic manipulation.
It is important to note, however, that what may be considered as traditional in one culture may not be the same in another. For instance, the widely-used acupuncture in China is considered as traditional medicine there but is considered as complementary medicine in the United States.

Although complementary medicine is not yet widely-used, there are studies in the field of oncology which show its numerous healing benefits with regards to breast cancer.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information notes that complementary therapy has helped ease the physical pain and the adverse effects brought about by surgery. For instance, arm movement improves due to acupuncture. It could also aid in improving the emotional well-being of a breast cancer survivor who is suffering from depression[2].

Moreover, studies have shown that there is a noticeable impact on the reduction of cancer pain due to hypnosis, especially if it involved imagery, relaxation, and the power of healing touch.[3] There is also a decrease in pain intensity, fatigue, and emotional discomfort after breast cancer surgery that is attributed to hypnosis.

Breastcancer.org also made numerous extensive research and studies to find out which complementary therapy works on different symptoms. According to the site, “researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center with colleagues at MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Michigan, Memorial Sloan Kettering, and other institutions in the United States and Canada, analyzed more than 200 studies were done between 1990 and 2013 to see which integrative treatments offer benefits and are safe for patients.” The results showed that in terms of physical symptoms, some of the complementary techniques that proved helpful to patients were shiatsu, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, chiropractic therapy, aromatherapy, reiki, tai chi, hypnosis, and yoga. On the other hand, in terms of emotional symptoms- guided imagery, music therapy, meditation, and aromatherapy proved to be beneficial.[4]

Studies have also shown that herb ginger, when used alongside traditional medicines, may help control vomiting brought about by chemotherapy sessions.

Furthermore, NCCIH notes that there is a considerable amount of evidence that prove acupuncture can also help relieve cancer patients’ nausea and vomiting.[5]

While studies may show a lot of benefits acquired through complementary medicine, it is still best to consult expert health care providers prior to taking natural products and mind and body therapy sessions. For instance, cancer survivors should take extra precautions in getting a massage because there are certain areas directly above or near tumors that are sensitive after a radiation therapy. Deep or extreme pressure applied on these sites may aggravate the pain after a chemotherapy session.

Likewise, there are also natural products that may interfere with cancer treatments or might be unsafe to them. For instance, the herb St. John’s wort which is used to treat depression among cancer patients can make some cancer pills less effective.


Presently, there are ongoing studies funded by the NCI and NCCIH to determine other complementary health approaches for cancer. Scientists are continuously stepping up their efforts to improve the lives of those who are sick. One of these efforts is a study on the impact of bamboo extract, red ginseng, white tea, and grape seed extract in cancer prevention or treatment. Another is the study on “mind and body practices to improve sleep in cancer patients.”[6]


For others who have given up on traditional medicine, they may see complementary medicine as a source of new hope. Some people may have shut their doors to the idea of exploring other options, but the decision to pursue new means to combat their malady should not be taken away. from those who are always hopeful.

1. Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s In a Name? 2016; https://nccih.nih.gov/health/integrative-health#cvsa
2.-3. Hoffman. Benefits of complementary therapies. 2007; https://nccih.nih.gov/health/integrative-health#cvsa
4. The Healing Benefits of Complementary Medicine. 2016; http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/comp_med/benefits
5.-6. Cancer: In Depth. 2014; https://nccih.nih.gov/health/cancer/complementary-integrative-research

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