The National Center for Integrative and Complementary Medicine (NCICM) is an organization within the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). This governmental agency provides unbiased information on complementary and alternative health practices to the American public. Complementary practices are those used in conjunction with conventional Western, or allopathic, medicine, while alternative medicine practices are those used in place of allopathic medicine. According to the NCICM, most Americans prefer to use a combination of allopathic and complementary medicine rather than using alternative medicine.
According to NCICM statistics, as of 2012, the use of natural products (such as herbs) was the most commonly used complementary health practice in the U.S., with about 17.7% of U.S. adults taking some form of herbal or natural supplement. The most commonly used natural product was fish oil. Among mind-body approaches to functional medicine, the most common ones for U.S. adults were yoga, osteopathic or chiropractic body manipulation, meditation, and massage therapy.
Is there scientific evidence that these functional approaches work? Yes. A large body of peer-reviewed, rigorous scientific study shows certain benefits associated with all five of these most common complementary health practices.
1. Fish Oil Supplements
Fish oil supplements have a demonstrated health benefit for people who have or are at risk for heart disease. These supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids, which can also be obtained in the diet from eating cold water, fatty fish at least twice a week. Omega-3 fatty acids help in lowering blood pressure, reducing triglyceride levels in the blood, and slow down the development of hard deposits in the arteries. In doing so they lower the risk of irregular heart rhythms, stroke, heart attack, and sudden cardiac death.
2. Chiropractic Care
Chiropractic manipulation has been shown to be safe and effective for relief of acute lower back pain, the kind of pain that occurs suddenly from an accident or injury and lasts for six weeks or less. Other conditions that can be shown to respond to chiropractic care include fibromyalgia, headaches, neck pain, and osteoarthritis.
As an exercise routine, yoga contributes to overall wellness by allowing practitioners to tone their muscles, build strength and flexibility, and burn calories. Many different varieties of yoga exist, and while these forms generally aren’t considered aerobic exercise, some variations of power yoga have been shown to generate the same benefits as aerobic exercise. It has also been shown to reduce stress, boost mood, and help reduce the symptoms of migraine.
Meditation has been shown to lower levels of pain in people with chronic pain conditions. It can also boost mood, reduce anxiety, and relieve the symptoms of stress and depression.
5. Massage Therapy
More than 80 different techniques fall under the umbrella of massage therapy. Neuromuscular therapy massage is one technique that specifically addresses poor circulation, muscle pain, nerve compression, and other medical issues associated with repetitive motion injuries and chronic pain. Studies suggest massage therapy benefits people with conditions including back pain, headache, osteoarthritis, anxiety, depression, and even some of the side effects associated with cancer.
Rigorous scientific evidence for the effectiveness of complementary medicine practices abounds. The NCICM is a resource anyone can use to look further into the effectiveness of alternative, complementary, homeopathic, and functional medicine modes. Not all modes stand up to medical scrutiny, but many do.