Apr 19, 2018 4:46:54 PM | military Treating Veterans with Complementary Alternative Medicine | ACHS

Complementary alternative medicine is the holistic and integrative approach to treating chronic illnesses, such as PTSD. ACHS explores how the use of complimentary alternative medicine can reshape veteran health. Learn more from ACHS.

Reshaping Veteran Health with Complementary Alternative Medicine

Reshaping Veteran Health with Complementary Alternative Medicine

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Veterans with health challenges can face one of two problems. Either standard medical treatments are insufficient, and they are left without anything that will help their minds and bodies heal. Or standard medical treatments are too much, and they are left dependent on painkillers, but again without any healing.

That is why veterans are increasingly turning to alternative medicine in an attempt to take a more balanced approach to healing. Natural health tools like aromatherapy, herbal medicine, and holistic nutrition are being used in conjunction with traditional medicine in an attempt to curb prescription drug dependence and facilitate mental and spiritual healing, rather than just physical healing.

Complementary alternative medicine in practice

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects 10-20% of all male veterans, and upwards of 30% of female veterans; in total, about 7.7 million Americans suffer from PTSD. The suicide rate of those who suffer from it is around 20%, and that is in spite of the use of powerful drugs such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which have an array of potentially harmful and unpredictable side effects.

Modern Western medicine tends to focus on the physical symptoms of a health challenge, and often neglect to take a holistic—or whole person approach—to solving the root problem. It is more apparent now than ever that the old way of treating veterans with long-term issues is not enough. Complementary alternative medicine helps resolve this problem by addressing all aspects of health (e.g., mind, body, spirit); as a result, its use can help facilitate lasting, meaningful recovery. (More on why alternative therapies are better for veterans + DIY herbal natural products here.)

How complementary alternative medicine works

Those in the field of holistic health - such as aromatherapists, herbalists, acupuncturists, holistic nutritionists, and integrative health and fitness experts, to name a few - work directly with veterans to improve their lives. They use the extensive knowledge and training at their disposal and delve into every aspect of their patients' lives to find solutions to their chronic problems. For example, preliminary research shows that "veterans who took part in [Mindful Yoga Therapy] MYT over several weeks perceived their own well-being to have improved after each session," while a recent meta-analysis of 12 studies showed that aromatherapy has a positive effect on reducing pain.

Aromatherapy can be an especially helpful support for PTSD and has a long history of use. While different practitioners, authors, and researchers may add their own spin to their personal definition of "aromatherapy," it can generally be defined as the use of aromas for their healing properties. In the most basic terms, an essential oil, the distilled product of the volatile components of a plant has specific chemical constituents associated with specific therapeutic actions. A trained aromatherapist can use essential oils through a variety of safe applications (via inhalation and diluted topically, for example) to support a client's optimal health and well-being. For example, initial research into the use of orange essential oil with PTSD showed "the mice exposed to orange essential oil experienced a significant decrease in the immune cells linked to the "biochemical pathways" associated with PTSD.

Professional outlook

The projected job growth of the holistic health and wellness industry is approximately 16-22%, but entry to the industry requires professional training.  With more veterans turning to CAM for support, there is an increasing need for holistic healthcare practitioners. American College of Healthcare Sciences offers a variety of accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees in fields such as herbalism, aromatherapy, and integrative health and fitness training. To learn more about the variety of online opportunities available at ACHS, download and explore the entire ACHS course list. ACHS online courses offer a streamlined, accessible way to pursue an integrative health and wellness career, helping you take your first steps towards making a difference in the lives of others.


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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease. This article has not been reviewed by the FDA. Always consult with your primary care physician or naturopathic doctor before making any significant changes to your health and wellness routine. 
American College of Healthcare Sciences

Written By: American College of Healthcare Sciences

ACHS's mission is to lead the advancement of evidence-based, integrative health and wellness education through experiential online learning and sustainable practices. This includes sharing helpful, informative, holistic healthcare articles on the ACHS Health and Wellness Blog.