What is alternative medicine?

First of all, let me put it out there - alternative medicine is an alternative way of thinking, not an alternative to seeing your doctor!

Now I know if you look up the phrase “alternative medicine” in the dictionary, it probably won’t say that.  It will reflect the common belief that alternative medicine is a raft of therapies, techniques and practices that are used instead of conventional medicine.

For some people they are.  But they don’t have to be.  And that’s not how I see them.  Especially when you have a chronic, long-term illness such as endometriosis.

I have worked with many people over the years, from people with injuries and mild illnesses to those with chronic and terminal illness.  These days I specialise in endometriosis because this is where my heart and soul lie; I have endometriosis myself and I am passionate about role alternative medicine can play in this care pathway.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

I learnt a long time ago that alternative medicine can work very well alongside conventional medicine, especially when the conventional medicine you’re undergoing is particularly harsh or cannot help with all of your symptoms. (You may also have heard the term 'complimentary therapies' - this refers to the same range of treatments but using them in a way that supports orthodox medicine.)

For many people, they see what I do as dangerous and irresponsible because they feel as though I am trying to persuade people to move away from conventional medicine or preaching in the old evangelical street pastor way that My Way is the Only Way.

It isn’t.    

I mean, it can be if you want it to be but that has to your personal choice and in order to make an informed choice you need to know all the facts: Both the limitations and benefits of all the treatment options you have.

A lot of people think that alternative medicine is just for people without symptoms.  Or that the more chronic your illness is, the less you need alternative medicine.

The trouble is that when you have a chronic condition, your body is going through so much that it can struggle to cope with the normal processes of just getting through life.  The emotional and physical strain of the illness as well as whatever medication or surgery you’re going through can be debilitating in itself.  And this, especially, is where alternative medicine can help.

What it can do

Alternative medicine can help on as many levels as you want it to.  

Sleep

At its most basic, it can help you relax, manage pain and get better sleep.  Sleep in itself is one of the two greatest kindnesses we can give our bodies.  It’s our natural way of rejuvenating and reenergising our physical and emotional bodies, which is why sleep deprivation impacts on us so much and why we feel so much better after a good sleep.    

Alternative medicine works really well with our natural rhythms to calm us down in ways we don’t even notice.  (More about this in future articles!)  

Healing yourself

Perhaps the most fundamental belief of this alternative way of viewing medicine is that our bodies, when everything is working well and in synergy, has the capacity to heal itself.   

We see this every day on a basic level.   We cut a finger opening a tin can and mostly, within a day, a scab has formed and the skin below is already well on the way to healing and repairing.   

The alternative medicine theory is that this can be perpetuated on a greater scale, so we can use alternative medicine to promote that natural healing.

When you have a chronic condition like endometriosis of course it isn’t quite that simple.   But we can use these different techniques to maximise our natural resilience and maximise our ability to recover from intense and invasive conventional treatments.  We can also delay our need for those intensive treatments if we know which alternative medicines to use.

De-stress

So many of the issues we face can be put down to stress, anxiety and tension.  Even when you have a chronic condition, it’s amazing how many of the symptoms are actually due to a secondary issue, like anxiety or depression.  This is where alternative medicine comes into its own.

One of the most-commonly used reasons for people using alternative medicine is simply to feel a bit more relaxed.   Sometimes, just taking an hour out for a message, a meditation session or a gong bath (seriously - try it!) can feel the same as having a week’s holiday.  And who doesn’t love that feeling!  

There are so many techniques that aim to relax and calm you, you’re spoiled for choice.  Over the coming weeks I will be writing more about some of the different therapies that are out there, but the best advice I can give you is to try what you’re drawn to. 

Other Stuff

There are so many different therapies that fall under the umbrella of alternative medicine that it’s impossible to list all of the benefits - but here are the most common ones:

  • Reduce pain
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Strengthen immune system
  • Balance you natural rhythms and systems. 

Nonsense to cut through

I have lost count of the amount of times I have had people doubt what I do because they’ve come across people who think that alternative medicine is just people like me telling them things like “breathe through the pain and you’ll be OK”, “just cut out dairy and your endometriosis will be better in 3 months” or “a morning routine of juice and yoga will sort out your endometriosis.”

There are grains of truth in these things but it isn’t that simple.  After all - if it was we’d all be running round healthy and happy all the time.

A proper breathing technique can help you manage your pain with incredible results, but it needs to be done properly and we need to get to the heart of what’s causing you the pain.  

A good diet is essential in being as well as you can be, but restrictions need to be done with proper (qualified) advice because cutting out vital nutrients will do more harm than good.  Plus, everyone’s endometriosis is different so for some people wheat could be a trigger, for others that trigger could be onions and for some it’s stress and anxiety that causes the IBS-type symptoms.  

A positive morning routine can set you up well for the day ahead and yoga and juice can have their place in any routine.  But this really is a personal thing and if you’re in pain or so tired you can barely stand up, then trying to do a daily Downward Dog is just going to add more pain, frustration and despair.

We need to take a coordinated approach to deal with endometriosis; an approach that looks at all areas of your life and addresses all of your endo triggers (and causes, once we know them.)

Don’t expect too much too soon

You see, that’s the thing.  Some alternative therapies won’t work as well as others for you, in the exact same way that some medicines work better than others.   The style of the therapist can play a role.  The expectations that you have going into the treatment session, as well, plays a massive role.  

The stories of the power of alternative medicine can be mind-blowing and this can lead people to think that they are going to walk out of their first session feeling incredible.   

If you’re planning on trying out alternative medicine then have a chat to your therapist first.  Talk to them about realistic goals and how the pathway to that goal will look like.  Talk about timeframes.  Treat it as you would a course of medicine.

Of course, if all you want to do is to use alternative medicine to get some much-needed rest and relaxation then these conversations won’t take up much time.  But it’s still worth having them.  Because as we all giving you a clearer idea of the therapy you’re signing up to, it also gives you a good idea of the therapist you’re signing up to.  If you two don’t gel, then chances are it won’t give you the results you’re looking for.

Conclusion

So if you’re someone who has tried some of these hollow promises, these get-well-quick schemes, then try if you can to look beyond the disappointment that it didn’t work for you (because I’m guessing it didn’t).  Reset your take on alternative medicine.  Consider it as an alternative way of viewing your health and start your journey with it again.

If you’re totally new to this World but fancy giving it a go, then take some time to find out what options are out there for you.  Talk to your GP/consultant.  Talk to your friends.  Talk to me!  A good therapist will offer to have a chat with you and will be open and honest about what they feel you need.  And they won’t shy away from recommended other people if they feel it’s a better fit for you.

About your author

Sarah has run her own alternative therapy business “Halcyon” since 2008, initially alongside a 9-5 career in health and social care commissioning and charity management. 

She has been full-time with Halcyon since 2018 and is now recognised as ‘Your Natural Endometriosis Expert” – helping people with endometriosis delay, prevent or recover well from surgery.   Though she still helps others who are struggling with chronic and terminal illness.   You can read more about her business at https://naturalendometriosisexpert.com