Interested in alternative treatments? Here are the most important facts about acupuncture and other most popular alternative practices.
Acupuncture originates in traditional Chinese medicine and involves fine needles being inserted into specific points on the body. Practitioners believe that disease develops because of blocks in the flow of energy or “qi” in the body, and that stimulating specific points releases it. It’s said to help cure everything from headaches to infertility.
The science bit: Acupuncture has some solid evidence behind it, for example for chronic lower back pain, tension headaches and migraines. But it probably doesn’ft work in the way practitioners believe. Scientists think it stimulates nerves, which then send signals to the brain to produce pain-relieving hormones. The jury’s still out on whether it really helps other conditions. While one study claimed acupuncture increased pregnancy rates in women undergoing IVF, many researchers believe the results might be down to the placebo effect – meaning it works because people expect it to. The expectation for the acupuncture to work helps women relax, which as a result boosts pregnancy rates.
Reflexology is based on the theory that there are “reflex points” on the feet that are connected with organs in the body. A therapist massages these points to help treat conditions from migraines to insomnia.
The science bit: The treatment may be enjoyable, but there’s no scientific evidence. Some recent studies showed it could help with fatigue. But the majority of studies carried out seem to largely rely on placebo effects. However, there’s a lot to be said for the power of relaxation.
Herbal medicine includes healing with plants, trees or fungi.
The science bit: Only few herbal remedies have science behind them. St John’s Wort, which is used for treating mild to moderate depression is the most well-researched herbal medicine. There’s also evidence for devil’s claw, which reduces pain, and senna for treating constipation.
Hypnotherapy uses hypnosis, an altered state of consciousness, to help treating stress-related conditions such as IBS, and to break bad habits.
The science bit: Studies show gut-centred hypnotherapy, a special form for treating digestive disorders, can make a significant difference to IBS, particularly for people who haven’t responded to other treatments. But the evidence for smoking and weight reduction is not convincing because only limited research has been done.
If you’ve ever had a massage you’ll know how super-indulgent it can feel. Are there any other health effects to it beyond helping you feel pampered?
The science bit: Some types of massage, such as Swedish massage, have been showed to be effective for relaxation. The evidence is limited for other benefits, but one study discovered massage can help with poor sleep, while another suggested it could lower blood pressure.