HEALTH INSURANCE

Bizarre treatments celebrities swear by

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Ever on the lookout for ways to appear younger and even more radiant, celebrities are the pioneers of the beauty world. But in recent years the A-list has turned its attention to radical alternative medical therapies, putting health ahead of vanity.

From Demi Moore's dabble in leech therapy, and Victoria Beckham's love of Geisha Facials, which uses bird droppings to form a cleansing paste, to singer Lily Allen's weight loss secret – hypnotherapy sessions – the stars swear by bizarre medical treatments.

Ever since Mad Men star January Jones announced that she consumed her own placenta after giving birth to her son, the world has been abuzz with discussion about whether these non-traditional treatments are simply medical madness.

Beyond Hollywood, alternative treatments were on display at the recent London Olympics; from evidence of "cupping therapy" on the backs of Chinese swimmers to those colourful strips of tape arranged in strange hieroglyphic patterns on so many athletes' bodies.

For the record the coloured tape is known as "Kinesio tape" and was invented in the early 1970s by Japanese chiropractor and acupuncturist, Dr Kenzo Kase, to provide support for muscles and joints and to improve blood and lymph flow.

Do they represent a new, cutting edge medical technology that boosts athletic performance or are they just the latest fad in the sports world because magnetic bracelets are so 2008?

While it can be easy to discount non-conventional treatments as strange – or disgusting, even – many swear by the results of alternative therapies. In fact, you may be surprised to discover that many private health insurance providers offer rebates on a range of natural therapies (typically consultation costs only) and healthy lifestyle programs such as weight management and quit smoking programs.

But do they really work?

It's a legitimate question, and there is considerable debate about whether or not alternative therapies are worth the investment.

Dr Brent Bauer, director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, told SMH that they shouldn't be instantly dismissed.

"We in conventional medicine have done a great job in many regards – wiping out polio, developing antibiotics for infections that once killed millions, et cetera," he said. "But where conventional medicine hasn’t had as many successes or cures, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, anxiety, and so in, it shouldn't be surprising that folks would start looking for other options."

Though Dr Bauer warns that an individual should practise caution when embarking on any form of alternative therapy, when used in conjunction with proven conventional solutions they can sometimes prove to be quite effective.

"Of course, the internet opens up a world of choices – some safe and effective, and some silly or dangerous. The key is to separate the two," he said. "Good research has shown the benefits of acupuncture, massage and meditation, and we offer all of these to our patients at Mayo Clinic. Not as a replacement to their conventional care but as a complement. We integrate the best of both worlds and refer to that combined approach as integrative medicine."

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