Alternative therapy such as massage, acupuncture and herbal supplements have been shown to ease the symptoms of digestive disorders. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Complementary and alternative therapies such as massage, acupuncture and herbal supplements have been shown to ease the symptoms of digestive disorders. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Think herbs are just for flavoring food? And hypnosis is to trick people into running around on stage, clucking like a chicken?

Guess again.

These and other forms of complementary and alternative medicine techniques are gleaning successful outcomes in the treatment of gastrointestinal and liver diseases.

You won’t find this information in medical school textbooks or distributed in hospitals, but complementary medicine is making waves.

About 42 percent of Americans use at least one of 16 popular non-traditional therapies, according to Michael Puff, MD, a gastroenterologist with the Spectrum Health Medical Group and chief, division of gastroenterology for Spectrum Health Hospitals.

“Many (alternative) therapies can help patients when traditional medicines have not been of benefit,” Dr. Puff said. “In addition, we now have randomized control trials proving the effectiveness of some of these therapies.”

The tide has turned so much that the number of annual patient visits to alternative practitioners (600 million) now exceeds visits to primary care physicians (400 million), according to research from the American College of Gastroenterologists.

A whopping 83 million folks are using some of the following techniques:

  • Relaxation
  • Herbal medicine
  • Massage therapy
  • Chiropractic therapy
  • Dietary supplements
  • Homeopathy
  • Ayurveda
  • Chelation/heavy metal removal
  • Yoga
  • Biofeedback
  • Acupuncture
  • Art therapy
  • Lifestyle diets
  • Hypnosis
  • Energy healing/Reiki
  • Tai chi

Dr. Puff said women are more likely than men to explore complementary alternative therapies, with the 35- to 49-year-old age group reporting the highest use.

Most patients pay out-of-pocket, spending an estimated $21.2 billion a year.

“This exceeds the total out-of-pocket expenditures for hospitalizations,” Dr. Puff said.

Patients don’t appear to be locked into an either-or scenario. Almost 45 percent of complementary and alternative therapy users also take prescription medications.

However, complementary and alternative therapies are not without risk—it’s estimated that 15 million people are at risk for drug interactions.

“It is important for patients to inform their doctors of their (alternative) therapy usage,” Dr. Puff said.

Natural and alternative remedies for common gastrointestinal maladies

Nausea and Vomiting

  • Ginger
  • Vitamin B6
  • Acupuncture
  • Relaxation therapy
Peppermint and peppermint oil are one of the powerful herbal supplements that have been shown to ease the symptoms of digestive disorders. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Peppermint and peppermint oil are powerful herbal supplements that have been shown to ease the symptoms of digestive disorders. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Indigestion

  • Peppermint
  • Caraway
  • Banana
  • Chili pepper extract
  • Liu-Jun-Zi-Tang (Chinese herbal supplement)
  • Tumeric (member of the ginger family, used in Indian and Chinese herbal medicine)
  • STW 5 (supplement that includes chamomile, peppermint, caraway, licorice, lemon balm, milk thistle and more)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

  • Hypnotherapy—effective in women younger than 50 and children
  • Psyllium (a plant fiber)
  • Peppermint oil
  • STW 5
  • Probiotic therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Ayurvedic medicine (ancient holistic approach from India)

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

  • Boswellia serrata (gum resin with anti-inflammatory properties)
  • Andrographis paniculata (plant extract)
  • Fish oil
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Tumeric

Dr. Puff again cautions to keep in mind that some alternative medicines can produce adverse effects and some do not mix well with prescription drugs. Milk thistle, for example, can cause nausea, diarrhea, headache and impotence.