Complementing Your Health

alternative medicineComplementing Your Health
Explore an array of complementary, alternative and integrative options
by Robert Zukowski

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]very morning I take a probiotic and squeeze a whole, fresh lemon into my water. I keep fennel on hand to aid in digestion. My usual mind and body practices include meditation, massage and reflexology. I use aromatherapy daily and keep a list of anti-inflammatory foods on the refrigerator to add to my shopping list. These are only a few of the complementary, alternative and integrative practices that are a part of my own overall wellness regimen.

The terms “complementary and alternative medicine” and “integrative medicine” are clearly visible on the horizon of wellness. The term “complementary” is often used to describe a non-mainstream health care approach used in conjunction with conventional medicine, while the term “alternative” refers to a non-mainstream approach used instead of conventional medicine. Integrative medicine is often referred to as a “whole person,” collaborative approach that addresses the physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental factors that affect a person’s health.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), nearly forty percent of Americans use healthcare approaches developed outside of conventional medicine. It is no surprise that the conventional medical community is beginning to ride this wave of wellness. The NIH, for example, has its own division dedicated to these practices. Major medical facilities use forms of integrative medicine as well. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, for one, offers integrative medicine services.

Why might these options be an important part of health care for people living with HIV? The University of Maryland Medical Center’s website has this to say, in part, on the subject. “Many people with HIV turn to complementary and alternative therapies to reduce symptoms of the virus, lessen side effects from medications, improve overall health and wellbeing, and gain a sense of empowerment by being actively involved in their own care. Different therapies are used to inhibit the virus, treat symptoms of the virus or side effects of medication, treat or prevent opportunistic infections and improve function of the immune system. Since the major impact of HIV is that it leaves patients vulnerable to opportunistic infections, making adjustments to ensure your overall health through improving stress reduction, exercise, building a social support network, and having a spiritual practice can significantly boost immune function. In fact, these actions are some of the most powerful tools a person has to impact the course of the disease.”

What options are available to you in this growing medical movement? In the 2012 National Health Interview Survey conducted by the NIH, it was found that the mind and body approaches most commonly used by adults included yoga, osteopathic manipulation, meditation and massage. There is an appeal to people of all ages. Among Americans ages forty-five to sixty-four, the use of yoga increased from 5.2 percent in 2002 to 7.2 percent in 2012. Nearly 20 million adults had osteopathic manipulation and nearly 18 million adults practiced meditation. The survey results also showed that nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products remain the most popular complementary approach used by American adults. There is an emerging younger generation using alternative options as well; the survey showed that 11.6 percent of U.S. children ages four to seventeen use complementary health approaches.

There is a world of options available to you. In this column, we will explore some of those options. Medicinal herbs, for one, are used by many. Herbal medicines are the tools of the trade used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, naturopaths, aromatherapists and Ayurvedic doctors. In traditional Chinese medicine, practitioners see illness as arising from a block or excess in your body’s energy flow. There are a number of different techniques used to correct the flow of energy including acupuncture, Shiatsu and exercises such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong. Aromatherapy is another popular segment of herbal medicine. It uses the healing and medicinal properties found in the oils of plants. Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world’s oldest medical systems. It is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Additionally, there is naturopathy. Naturopathic practitioners see symptoms as your body’s attempt to restore balance and use a holistic approach to healing. Homeopathy is yet another modality based on the idea that the body has the ability to heal itself.

Mind and body practices are another popular option for wellness and include a diverse array of possibilities. Acupuncture, massage, meditation, movement therapies, relaxation techniques, and hypnotherapy are all excellent examples. Affirmations and visualization, which is also called guided imagery, is another option often used for a healthier and more positive outlook and state of mind.

While we explore these many options, remember that HIV should never be treated with alternative therapies alone. It is extremely important that you share information on your use of complementary and alternative therapies with your doctor, so that your doctor can help you determine what is safe and appropriate.


After a lengthy career in the arts and LGBT activism, Robert Zukowski pursued his goal of a career in complementary and alternative healthcare. He is a New York State licensed Massage Therapist, a Certified Medical Massage Therapist and is certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. In addition to his hands-on work, he is a writer and lecturer in the field of therapeutic massage therapy.