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Is your doctor open to alternative medicine?

How Open is your Doctor to Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (or CAM) is widely used by patients, but often left undiscussed with their traditional doctors. According to one study, 82% of headache sufferers use some type of alternative methods to treat their Migraines, but only 50% tell their doctor. Why? Because their doctors aren’t talking about it or suggesting it to them. Patients can feel judged by their doctors especially if the doctor doesn’t show an interest or have any belief that alternative therapies other than medication can be helpful.

A paper recently published by Robert Cowan titled “CAM in the Real World: You May Practice Evidenced Based Medicine, but Your Patients Don’t,” encourages all doctors to stop ignoring that their patients use CAM and start integrating it into their treatment plan.1 Doctors tend to dismiss the benefits of acupuncture, yoga or herbs because there is little evidence to show that it works. Studies in this area can often be inconclusive or hard to test. On the flip side, these types of treatments rarely have serious side effects.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine can include:

Natural ProductsButterbur, Feverfew, Magnesium, CoQ10, Riboflavin

Mind-Body MedicineMeditation, Biofeedback, Hypnotism, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Body Based PracticesChiropractic, Massage, Acupuncture, Trans-cranial therapy

Less than 20% of Headache Specialists surveyed incorporate CAM into their treatment plans. Cowan suggests that this is a disservice to the patients. Doctors should at least have a basic knowledge of complementary and alternative medicines in order to support patients who want to incorporate these practices into their daily life. Unfortunately there still exists a way of thinking among medical professionals that the healing arts are not a legitimate way to treat disease. Medicines are seen as a tangible solution, while it is hard to scientifically judge the effects of herbs or biofeedback.

As Cowan urges physicians to acknowledge and integrate alternative medicine with their patients, I find that some patients could also use encouragement in being open to these suggestions. I have found for me that a mix of medication and alternative methods have helped me tremendously. Taking pills seems to be the first line of defense for any illness. Being given a prescription almost validates any issue that we have. I think that some are hesitant to add in yoga or meditation or acupuncture because it says that healing can come from within, which translates into “the problem is all in your head.” If you’re not taking a pill for it, then you’re making it up or it’s not a serious problem if you can control it with a few “Ooommms,” at the yoga studio. Like physicians who are ignoring the benefits of CAM, some patients may fail to see the powers of these alternatives because it doesn’t come in a pill with a warning label.

Don’t get me wrong, I take plenty of medication to prevent and abort my Migraines. But in also integrating Complementary and Alternative Medicine, I find that I feel more in control. Maybe it’s just taking the time to take care of myself. I’m able to listen and be more in tune with what my body needs and I feel less guilty when I need to make a change to accommodate my illness. Luckily, my doctor is very on board with using herbs, encourages me to exercise, gives me meditation websites to visit and always tells me that I’m not getting enough massages.

What Complementary and Alternative Medicine do you practice? Do you discuss it with your doctor?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Cowan, Robert. “CAM in the Real World: You May Practice Evidenced Based Medicine, but Your Patients Don’t,” Headache. 2014; 54(6):1097-1102. © 2014 Blackwell Publishing


  • ThreeGals
    4 years ago

    I know this is somewhat of an older message, but it really spoke to me as a result of a recent conversation I had with one of my doctors.
    I have a team of people from local to one of the most massive hospitals in the world. I have been very surprised by the amount of complementary and alternative approaches that have been supported.Next week I am actually going to try HYPNOSIS…a far stretch for me. My pain is unrelenting and my insomnia has reached epic proportions. I’m anxious to see just what can happen with this route!

  • youkayn00b
    5 years ago

    my doctor is quite open to alternative therapies, but i am not. i think i would have to have at least some confidence in the therapies for them to work for me, and i lack that. so i avoid doing them

  • nikki7
    5 years ago

    One of the conditions that allow you to get medical marijuana (MMJ) in WA state, and probably other states, as well, is migraines. I was wondering if anyone uses MMJ for their migraines. I was especially interested in the tincture that has little to no THC, as I also have a movement disorder along with chronic migraines. Just wondering because I don’t believe I have ever heard any studies on the use of MMJ for migraines. Most think migraines is a non disability that people use to get MMJ. If I try it I only want the non THC tincture as I am not liking the smell, or the smoke, or the high.

  • youkayn00b
    5 years ago

    i have tried using marijuana for my migraines but i find it actually exacerbates them. but i didn’t fixate on the pain as much, so there’s that.

  • andy
    5 years ago

    Yipes, I have tied every psychic/aura/diet/holistic/healer/whatever, including the latest cayenne pepper up my nose, ouch!

    I have been seeing colors, going blind in one eye, drifting from this reality … and keeping it a secret since I’ve been 6. Finally, at the age of 63, a neurologist told me those are migraine symptoms. Oh yeah, about the headache – I got that, too. For decades I thought it was my f*^king sinuses.

    Agony for days and daze.

    I find, for me anyway (only speaking for myself here) all that dot.alt therapies have a lot to do with the placebo effect. That don’t work on me. I’m definitely a skeptic. Oh, and my wife is a medium/healer. We get along great – figure that out.

    Luckily, my next door neighbor (a psychiatrist) suggested Sumatriptan. Four thousand doctors gave me nasal sprays for allergies and the guy next door said, “Let me write you prescription for Sumatriptan.”

    Problem solved. Wow!

    For me, Sumatriptan works all the time – every time … except once – that was scary.

    Thanks for listening,


  • britt
    5 years ago

    I have an amazing neurologist who seeks out every treatment: a week in the hospital on lidocaine to break a migraine, along with his personal recommendation to practice meditation every day, do yoga when I can, take butterbur and huperzine and cannabinoids to apply to area where the pain is starting from(suboccipital region) to try and help with pain and avoid opiates.

    He’s even given a referral for rTMS treatment with Neurostar. Has anyone heard anything about their success with migraines? I’ve searched the site and only found references to the at home treatments with magnetic therapy.

    I am blessed to have such a skilled neurologist— if your neuro is looking only at the migraine and not at you as a whole person, I would find a new one, who treats you as the complex being that you are, and is dedicated to finding the right mixture of drugs, herbs, and alternative practices that makes your life liveable.

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