Belinda Lowe is the kind of patient the medical profession is scrambling to catch up to. She sees her doctor regularly, exercises and eats well and wants her health care providers to be as interested in caring for her mind, body and spirit as she is. She wants her health care to be as natural as possible.

So when Lowe decided to have surgery last fall, she was surprised and pleased when the doctor suggested that she undergo hypnosis before surgery rather than receive anesthesia to numb her body and prevent pain.

The experience, says Lowe, was like being on a tropical vacation, albeit in a doctor's office.

Physicians like Richard Herman, the Botsford General Hospital obstetrician/gynecologist who performed Lowe's hypnosis and surgery, are part of a new wave in the movement of therapies from the fringes of health care into mainstream medical circles. Traditional health care providers are responding to patients like Lowe by offering hypnosis, acupuncture, massage, vitamins, herbal supplements, meditation, yoga and guided imagery in addition to conventional medical care.

Much of what is considered alternative or complementary medicine is aimed at preventing illness, allowing the body to heal itself naturally and caring for a person's physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. It also encourages people to learn about their health and the options for maintaining or improving it.

For Herman, learning hypnosis and incorporating it into his medical practice makes sense for him and his patients. “People are looking for a better way,” he says, adding that since last summer, about 20 patients have opted for hypnosis in place of anesthesia.

Even the name “alternative” – used to describe therapies outside the scope of traditional medicine – can be misleading now, says Mayo Clinic physician Brent Bauer. As more health care providers offer such services, it makes sense to refer to the therapies as complementary or integrative.

“This whole realm ... is part of our culture now. It's a part of how we take care of ourselves,” says Bauer, who is the director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at the Rochester, Minn., health system and editor of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Alternative Medicine .

As more research is done to validate therapies and as patients request complementary treatments, doctors are becoming more willing to recommend that their patients try the therapies, many as a way of relieving chronic pain, says Maria Wilson, a former physical therapist who manages her husband's medical office.

Wilson's husband is physician Stephen Wilson, whose practice draws patients seeking pain relief and management. He became certified as a medical acupuncturist and began offering other complementary treatments in his practice when he noticed that many patients were not satisfied with surgery because it didn't relieve their pain.

He then opened his own practice specializing in pain management and relief using complementary and conventional medicine.

“Now I have a whole host of other things that I can choose from to treat them, and they know it's from a reputable source,” says Wilson.

That those who practice conventional medicine are opening up to non-traditional practices is a good thing for patients, who will be more in control of their own health care, says Bauer.

“You've got to stop smoking, be active, eat nutritiously,” he says. “That's the underpinning. None of this stuff is a magic bullet. The key to all this is having a nice foundation.”

While many complementary treatments such as massage, acupuncture, and some herbal supplements have been shown to work, others have not undergone sufficient research and could be dangerous. Some herbs, vitamins, minerals and other supplements are unregulated, so their effectiveness is untested.

© 2007, Detroit Free Press.

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