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Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Overview

Reiki

What it is: The premise of Reiki is that it accesses the body's natural energy to speed healing. The practitioner hovers his or her hands over the patient's body. Or he or she places them lightly on the person's skin.

The evidence: There is something to be said for the healing touch when it comes to bringing about a state of calm. One study checked the effect of Reiki on people hospitalized with heart disease. It showed that Reiki was effective in bringing about an increase in:

  • Happiness
  • Relaxation
  • Feeling of calm

Therapeutic Touch

What it is: Advocates of this technique suggest that the power of touch may direct energy flow and treat pain and disease.

The evidence: It's hard to tell for sure whether therapeutic touch works. There have been few good studies done on this technique. Researchers have investigated its effects on wound healing, pain, and anxiety. Studies into its effectiveness have not been conclusive.

 

Herbal Medicine

Plants form the foundation of herbal medicine. They're taken in several forms, including pills, powders, or extracts to treat a variety of conditions. Herbal medicine can be divided into three types:

  • Ayurvedic
  • Chinese
  • Traditional

Ayurvedic

What it is: Ayurvedic medicine originated in India more than 2,000 years ago. It focuses on balance of the mind, body, and spirit. Hundreds of different herbs are used to:

  • Protect the body against disease
  • Relieve pain
  • Improve general health

The evidence: Most studies performed have been small. They cannot provide conclusive evidence that Ayurvedic herbal medicine works.

There's also a serious caution to using Ayurvedic products. One study found that Ayurvedic herbal medicines from South Asia had dangerously high levels of:

  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Arsenic

Chinese

What it is: Chinese herbal medicines include gingko and ginseng. They are not used to treat a specific symptom or disease. Instead they are meant to restore balance to the body as a whole. These medicines can be taken in many forms, including pills, powders, and teas.

The evidence: Chinese herbal remedies have been studied for treating conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. But the research hasn't been well-designed enough to draw any conclusions on effectiveness.

Regarding safety, there have been reports of heavy metals and other toxins in certain Chinese herbal remedies.

Traditional

A number of different herbs are grown right here in the U.S. or in Europe that are considered "Western" or "traditional" herbal remedies. Most studies on these herbs have been small. So it's hard to know for sure whether they work. A few herbs that have shown possible benefit include:

  • Chamomile for relieving stomach upset
  • Cranberry for preventing urinary tract infections
  • Flaxseed, garlic, and soy for lowering cholesterol
  • Peppermint oil for preventing heartburn
  • St. John's wort for relieving mild to moderate depression

Although herbal remedies are considered "natural," they can cause side effects. They may also interact with drugs you're taking for other conditions. Talk to your doctor before taking any herbal medicine.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on December 13, 2013

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