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What is complementary medicine and how does it help someone with TBI?

Complementary medicine is also known as Integrative medicine and Alternative medicine. It is defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institute of Health, as unconventional treatment used in addition to treatment recommended by a physician.

Complementary medicine is healing-oriented medicine that takes into account the whole person (body, mind and spirit), as well as all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes therapeutic relationships and makes use of all available therapies, both conventional and alternative.

Basically, you get more than a 6-minute visit.

Where can you get alternative treatments?

Complementary medicine has come out of the fringes and into the mainstream. If you Google "University Complementary Medical Centers," you get 18,700,000 results. Nearly every University Medical Center has a division of and center for Complementary Medicine. That means they are teaching it to medical students and nursing students, they are researching the efficacy of complementary therapies and they are using it for patient care.

So what types of therapies are involved?

Chiropractic is the most common complementary therapy. Massage, acupuncture, meditation and yoga are all very common treatments as well. Support Groups have emerged as a key component because they have been shown to prolong life and prevent (re)occurrence of disease. Diet and exercise are also critical components of any plan of care. All complementary medicine is specialized to meet the unique needs of each patient.

What's more, complementary medicine also shows that human experiences such as love, touch, relationships and connectedness are powerful determinants for prognosis and healing. For example, the University of Texas medical School did a study (Thomas Oxman, principle researcher) where people about to undergo open heart surgery were asked two questions:

1. Are you a member of a social group that meets regularly (bridge club, civic group, sports group)?
2. Do you draw strength from a religious faith?

Those who answered "no" to both questions had a seven times greater incidence of death six months after surgery than those who answered "yes" to both questions.

World-renowned heart physician and founder of Preventive Medicine Research Institute, Dean Ornish M.D., has written a New York Times bestseller (Love and Survival) on the power of love and intimacy to actually heal and reverse heart disease.

Is there actual evidence that complementary medicine works?

Yes. In fact, there is a scientific basis for the healing power of alternative therapies. Dr. Ornish has done extensive review of the literature on the healing power of love and intimacy - see Chapter 2, Love and Survival.

David Spiegel, M.D., at the Stanford University Medical Center, found that woman with breast cancer lived twice as long if they participated in a support group than woman with breast cancer who did not.

Each University Integrative Healing Center's Web site provides links to studies and current research on the efficacy of integrative medicine as well.

Whatever the symptoms, or condition, complementary medicine considers all aspects of a person's health in the treatment plan. Does that mean you'll be sipping on green tea and vegetable soup between your a.m. massage and afternoon support group? Yeah, something like that.

This sounds fine, but I'm sorry the post didn't include a warning about all the crackpot stuff that goes under the rubric of "Alternative medecine". In fact most "Alternative medecine" is anything but medecine: It's a shameful grab for people's money, a callous and uncaring contempt for the health of the person. They prey upon people's wishful thinking. But don't worry -- common sense can guide you away from the junk. If you can, get a physician you can talk to. Use your common sense. For example massage won't hurt you and it certainly makes one feel more relaxed. That's good. Taking some crazy herbs based upon one person's word that they'll work or some new agey book or the word of the health food store is just a bad idea. NIH spends millions evaluating herbs and other alternative things -- if they work you can bet they'll be solid data to support it. Then you might look at the herb again. 99.99999% of that stuff is baloney at best, dangerous at worst. Sure, a lot of drugs are bullshit and unecessary, but if we're talking about real disease here that can't be treated with diet and exercise, then your physician's understanding of the disease (and the drugs) should be overwhelmingly your main guide.

Unquestionably, a positive mental outlook (i.e. hope and support) increases chances for a positive outcome for an illness or for life in general. It really doesn't matter how the outlook is achieved. Being depressed shortens lives, sad to say, perhaps from increased stress. However, phoney treatments often keep people from "taking their medecine", which may be unpalatable, literally and figuratively, but does actual good. Sadly, many people don't get the good advice they need from their physician. Nearly all of these Dr.s are decent, but they all have their own human quirks. If you can, find one you can talk to.
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