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7 BEST Complementary therapies

From acupuncture to crystal healing, thousands of therapies claim the key to curing our mind and body woes.  But while some are truly effective, others are snake oil.  Here’s Healthista’s pick of the best 

1. HYPNOTHERAPY Deep relaxation therapy is used to put the patient into a trance-like state (usually as the hypnotherapist speaks).  Then, the practitioner makes suggestions for changes in the patient’s behaviour to help with specific problems.  Proven for  Pain, anxiety and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) as well as stress and anger issues.  It’s also effective in treating children with bed-wetting problems. Risks  There are few risks associated with hypnotherapy and contrary to popular belief, the hypnotist doesn’t have the power to make you take your clothes off and bark like a Chihuahua.  Also, be aware that hypnotherapy can uncover repressed memories, not always pleasant.  How much will I need?  You can benefit from as little as one session but generally between six and 12 sessions once weekly.   £££ About £60 a session  Find a practitioner  From the Complementary Medicine Association (CMA),

2. OSTEOPATHY The famous ‘click’ of an osteopath involves literally manipulating the bones of the spine and joints to alleviate pain.  Sometimes it can feel quite rough and jolty, if only for a second but patients report incredible results. Proven for  Back and joint problems and some headaches. Risks  Can be risky for people with weak joints such as those suffering with osteoporosis or bone cancer.   How much is enough?  Good practitioners can often fix the problem in one session but sometimes up to six might be needed. £££  Between £50-75 a session Find a practitioner  General Osteopathic Council

3. ALTERNATIVE EXERCISE (Yoga, Tai Chi etc.) For anyone allergic to Western exercise such as going to the gym, yoga, Tai Chi or Qi Gong are ideal.  Based on Indian and Chinese movement therapies they integrate the mind and body by focusing on breathing, balance, stretching muscles and gentle movements and can help the body tone and well as relax.  Proven for  Unprecedented in helping stress and general wellbeing but also proven effective for cardiovascular problems, joint flexibility and osteoporosis risk. Risks  Relatively low, however some of the more dynamic forms of yoga such as Astanga or Jivamukti can injure ankles and wrist joints so tread carefully and always go to classes at your level, specifying to the teacher if you’re a beginner. How much is enough?  You can take a course of around six sessions then practice alone or take up classes – twice weekly is recommended. £££ free to £15 a class. Find a practitioner  British Wheel of Yoga, or

4. MEDITATION Focusing on the breath you direct your attention to a symbol, sound or ‘mantra’ to achieve a heightened state of relaxation. Although some meditation can be associated with Buddhist and Hindu religions, it’s possible to go to secular classes and reap benefits. We’re big fans. Proven for  Reducing high blood pressure, stress reduction and enhancing creativity.  In the US it’s used to help people deal with the symptoms of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.  Risks  Few, unless you listen to meditation tapes while driving (which of course you shouldn’t). How much is enough?  To lower blood pressure, you may need up to ten sessions but learning meditation techniques is achievable in a weekend workshop or six weekly classes.  £££  Free to £10 a session.  Some free classes are run by religious organisations so if that’s not your bag, always find out beforehand.  Find a practitioner

5. AUTOGENIC TRAINING A form of self-hypnosis, practitioners lay or sit somewhere quiet and use visualisation and deep breathing to induce a state of deep relaxation.  Once you learn the technique, it’s recommended you practice for 15 minutes three times a day. Proven for  There’s excellent research into its benefits for anxiety, stress, high blood pressure and insomnia as well as migraines and Reynaud’s Disease. Risks  very few though it’s generally not recommended for people with severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia or epilepsy. How much is enough?  You will need around three days’ training to be able to successfully perform the technique on yourself. £££  About £200 for a day’s training, then free. Find a practitioner

6. ACUPUNCTURE An ancient Chinese system of healing therapy where fine needles are placed into the skin at points along the body’s meridians (these correspond with different organs in Chinese medicine).  It doesn’t hurt, though can be slightly uncomfortable if needles are placed too deeply (or weirdly, if you’re menstruating)  Proven for  Pain relief, nausea, injury recovery and fertility problems (when used in association with IVF). Risks Occasionally there can be bleeding at the sight where needles are inserted and extremely rarely, infection.  How much is enough?  Usually about six sessions once or twice weekly £££ £50-100 a session but you can get acupuncture in NHS pain clinics, ask your GP for a referral. Find a practitioner  British Acupuncture Council at 0208 735 0400

7. MASSAGE THERAPY  Using physical pressure and different techniques of manipulation through touch, a therapist works on the body to deeply tone and relax muscles.  Few treatments deliver a more instantaneous ‘Ahh’ effect when done well. Proven for  back and joint pains, anxiety, depression, stress and constipation.  Different types have different benefits, for example Swedish is best for relaxation and toning, sports massage is best for injuries, Bowen therapy works on nervous conditions Risks  Very few, though an over-zealous therapist can exacerbate any existing pain.  Don’t be shy about explaining your pain threshold and any injuries beforehand and to speak up if you have nudity issues. How much will I need?  How much do you want?  For wellbeing, as little as one a year can make a difference but for sports injuries one to three sessions are usually required. £££  £50-150 an hour. Find a practitioner

 …now for some we’re NOT convinced about

MAGNET HEALING Magnetic ‘healing’ devices include everything from mattresses to bracelets to belts that are thought to treat conditions such as pain and insomnia when placed next to the skin.   While there is plenty of evidence often cited by companies selling these products, none of it adds up.

CHELATION THERAPY  During this treatment, chemicals are injected into the bloodstream to bind with toxins in the blood and supposedly cleanse the system of heavy metals and other poisons.  While most of the therapies on this list are ineffective but generally low-risk, chelation therapy is based on outdated scientific theories and actually quite dangerous.  In 2005 two children suffered cardiac arrest after having the treatment.

CRYSTAL THERAPY  This uses gemstones such as quartz for ‘energy healing’ based on the way the ‘vibrations’ of these stones affect our bodies (don’t get it?  Neither do we).  This is based on irrational, mystical concepts and there is no evidence that crystal therapy does anything but relax the patient.

REIKI / ENERGY THERAPIES  There is some work in the US showing ‘touch’ therapies like these which rely on spiritual energy transferred from practitioner to patient can benefit patients.  But many experts believe this is simply down to the ‘placebo’ effect, where a patient believes something works and reports feeling better although no physical benefit is detectable.

REFLEXOLOGY  This is a controversial one as many people report positive results from reflexology; which uses foot massage to diagnose problems in major organs (it’s thought your sole represents a micro-map of the body’s internal organs).  But while some studies in the USA seem to support reflexology as beneficial, it’s expensive and not proven.

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