Alternative Healthcare Can Help Treat Chronic Diseases

By Steve Marks, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, PacificSource Health Plans

One of every five of your neighbors may be living with a chronic disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the total number to be approximately 90 million Americans.

A chronic disease is classified as a nonreversible, ongoing illness that is often not able to be prevented by vaccines or cured by medication. Examples of chronic diseases and conditions include heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

For those who suffer from chronic diseases, it may be a relief to learn that a variety of treatments and coping options exist. Increasingly more medications are available to treat such problems, but some traditional medications may cause unwanted side effects, which may limit the medication’s ultimate usefulness. While conventional medicine is often necessary for disease screening and treatment, alternative healthcare can be helpful for pain relief and maintaining a healthy body.

Alternative health care often aims to address the “whole” person—including mind, body and spirit. Less invasive alternative treatments may encourage the patient to heal faster and fight infection and disease. Alternative practices are not meant to be a cure or a replacement, but can help traditional medicine work more effectively. More than one-third of Americans use alternative healthcare practices, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Traditional and alternative systems are beginning to merge to become “integrative medicine.” Many traditional treatments for chronic diseases can be augmented by alternative healthcare and medicine, including acupuncture, naturopathy, and chiropractic care.

Acupuncture has been the standard for medical care in China for more than 3,000 years. Acupuncturists treat the body as a system of organs interconnected by meridians and channels in which energy (chi) flows. According to that approach, disease develops when the energy is blocked and the balance is disturbed. Health is maintained and disease or pain is prevented by restoring the flow of energy in the affected areas.

Naturopathy uses natural methods to treat and prevent disease, including herbal medicines, nutrition therapy, and body work.

Chiropractic care is based on the theory that good health is a result of an undisrupted flow of nerve impulses from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. A chiropractor makes adjustments to the spine to maintain the flow of nerve impulses and keep the body healthy.

The best way to find an alternative care specialist is to ask a traditional practitioner who is familiar with alternative medicine for guidance. Many medical doctors have referral relationships with alternative care specialists. Look for specialists who are trained, licensed and certified in their field.

Alternative medicine can serve as an active complement to traditional medicine. Acupuncture can treat symptoms that are caused by chronic diseases such as pain and nausea. It also can help treat diseases such as arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and complications associated with stroke. Naturopathy can help treat pain and injury, chronic headaches, asthma, digestive disorders and other conditions. Finally, chiropractic care treats neck pain, and spine and lower back disorders such as back strain.

Many health plans cover alternative and complementary care. Many health insurers, such as PacificSource Health Plans, include an optional alternative healthcare package as well as chronic disease self-management workshops for members. With these resources at your fingertips, may you be on your way to a long and healthy life. 

InTouch for Members

Living with a Chronic Condition?

You don't have to stop doing the things you love to do. PacificSource partners with local agencies to offer a workshop that can help you learn to manage your symptoms. Learn more.

Last updated 4/1/2009