With an overwhelming number of approaches to using food and healing modalities in the place of—or alongside— Western medicine, newbies to alternative medicine may struggle with where to begin.
Throughout this guide we'll explore popular alternative approaches to healing, commonly sought out and confused. Dr. Joshua Phillips, ND, the creative director of Hawthorn Healing Arts Center, helps clarify these approaches and how they are used—while reminding you that you should always consult a professional before trying them out.
Essential Oils Vs. Herbs
Essential oils are most commonly used in aromatherapy where healing is sought through the inhalation of various scents. They are also sometimes used topically. The oils are the concentrated distillation of an herb; which may also be ingested in the form of a capsule, tea, or as an ingredient in food when in its natural form. It takes large amounts of an herb to create a small amount of its essential oil.
Indications for essential oils and the herbs they are created from are often the same because they come from the same plants. How you receive them is where the difference comes in. Essential oils affect the nervous system through the olfactory system and can have an almost immediately noticeable impact, especially when seeking relaxation. They, in some cases, can also be applied topically seek guidance because some oils can irritate the skin.
According to Phillips, herbs are generally ingested and there has been far more research and literature written about their use, safety and contraindications. He says, "Generally speaking, you have to be a lot more cautious with essential oils in terms of internal use. Many you don't want to ingest and they can even be dangerous when ingested."
Chicken Soup Vs. Bone Broth
Most are familiar with the concept of eating chicken soup to recover from a seasonal illness, but some studies say that soups can do a whole lot more than ease the discomfort of the common cold—especially ones made with bone broth.
When wondering whether to eat chicken soup or bone broth, first know that both offer similar benefits: the ability to help heal leaky gut, offer immune support and create stronger and healthier bones and joints.
These benefits come from the many minerals that are found in the bones of the animal the broth is made from. Phillips explains that while a genuine homemade-by-grandma chicken soup made from the remains of a chicken will undoubtedly have some bone elements in it, a broth made from boiling down bones themselves is more concentrated and will have a much richer mineral content. He says, "You are getting a whole lot of different minerals including glucosamine, and you are getting collagen and other compounds related to connective tissue. By drinking all of that you are arguably benefitting your own bones and joints."
While chicken soup also provides vitamins and minerals when made only with meat, it lacks the concentration of bone broth and presumably the impact.
Acupressure Vs. Acupuncture
Based in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine, the practitioners of these two modalities believe that conditions and diseases are caused by blockages and imbalances in a body's energy flow. The idea is that the body is lined with energetic meridians and that there are specific points on the meridians that can be used to treat different organ systems and conditions.
Phillips says, "(With both acupuncture and acupressure) you are essentially trying to achieve the same thing by stimulating a point and creating some energetic movement ... either with a needle or by applying pressure."
Whether you choose acupressure or acupuncture may depend on your tolerance for needles. Acupuncture may have a stronger effect than acupressure however, acupressure is a good approach for those who are sensitive or can't tolerate needles and allows pediatric patients to be treated when acupuncture is not possible.
Reflexology vs. Reiki
In reflexology the hands and feet are seen as the windows to the body. A reflexologist sees a map of the entire body and all of its organs on the sole of the foot. During treatment, pressure is applied to "reflex points" on the foot that correspond with different body organs and systems.
This modality is similar to acupressure in the belief that when you stimulate the various points, you are breaking up the stagnation in those different organ systems.
Reiki means universal energy. The practice itself is considered both a manual and energy healing modality and is used for physical, mental and emotional healing. Unlike Reflexology, Reiki does not use pressure points. Phillips says, "In Reiki there can be light touch, but it's not about the physical pressure as much as it is an energy medicine technique."
A Reiki treatment is called an attunement, which focuses on tapping into a universal energy source and moving that energy through your body. During treatment the practitioner holds their hand over, or places them on, various parts of the body for approximately five minutes and acts as a conduit for the energy they are tapping into.
Phillips explains, "There is the idea that there is a...energy source that is available...with Reiki, (the practitioner is) channeling a cosmic or universal energy source and bringing it through their hands and delivering it to somebody's body. It's a way of moving energy. It's not about physical pressure, its' about channeling subtle energies."