Alternative Medicine

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Alternative medicine is a difficult concept to define, mainly because there are many varying and opposing views about alternative medicine. For some, alternative medicine is simply the medicinal practices that have not been proven to the clinical standards of modern Western medicine. For others, alternative medicine comprises therapeutic practices that are undervalued and not accepted by modern Western medicine. There are still others who claim that there is nothing alternative about these systems and they are practices that have been practised successfully for centuries.



Still, there have been attempts to define alternative medicine. An accepted definition is: "A broad domain of healing resources that encompasses all health systems, modalities and practices, and their accompanying theories and beliefs, other than those intrinsic to the politically dominant health system of a particular society or culture in a given historical period. "It includes all such products and ideas self-defined by their users as preventing or treating illness or promoting health and well-being. "Boundaries within complementary and alternative medicine and between complementary and alternative medicine and the domain of the dominant system are not always sharp or fixed."

Some authorities have defined complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as those practices that are explicitly used for medical intervention, health promotion or disease prevention, but which are not routinely taught at medical schools. This is not a satisfactory delineation because various alternative therapies are now part of syllabi in many countries.

Generally, a lot of terms are used inter-changeably to include the above defined practices: Alternative medicine, integrative medicine, wholistic medicine, holistic medicine, complementary medicine, natural medicine and CAM.

Alternative Vs. Complementary Medicine

Some people try to distinguish between alternative and complementary medicine. They opine that if alternative medicine or therapy is used alone or instead of conventional medicine, it is called "alternative" medicine. If the treatment or therapy is done along with or in addition to conventional medicine, it is referred to as "complementary medicine" as the two practices complement each other.

These definitions do not address how the underlying philosophy of these approaches are different from conventional medicine. Usually, complementary and alternative therapies follow the following basic principles:

  • Complementary and alternative therapies are based on the body’s innate ability to heal itself.
  • These therapies medicine do not rely on prescription drugs and other conventional medical procedures. However, they do not discount the benefits that these procedures can provide when necessary.
  • These systems of medicine looks at the underlying cause of the problem and addresses the whole person (mind, body, emotions and spirit) and not just the symptoms.
  • The goal is to create optimum health, and these therapies focus on preventing disease and helping someone feel the best they can, as much as treating a particular disease.

Examples of Alternative Medicine

One also needs to keep in mind that 'conventional' and 'alternative' are ever-changing and evolving concepts. Dr Jonathan Monckton, director of the UK Research Council for Complementary Medicine, says: "It's a process of evolution so what is yesterday's fringe is today's alternative, tomorrow's complementary and ultimately it becomes conventional," he said. "For example, take dentistry. At the turn of the century, dentistry was complete fringe medicine, but look at it now, it is wholly conventional."


  • The popularity of alternative medicines: Effectiveness needs to be proven to the majority of medical practitioners in the UK
  • What is alternative medicine?