Alternative Medicine: The Short Version

Alternative medicine is any healing practice, treatment, or therapy that is not accepted by conventional medicine. Another way to define alternative medicine is that it is a treatment that has not been clinically to be effective.

And alternative medicine is controversial. Richard Dawkins put is best: “There is no alternative medicine. There is medicine that works, and medicine that doesn’t work.” Many people swear that alternative medicine is a scam designed to take your money, while their opponents claim that the conventional medical system is the scam. And the argument will continue for however long the two sides disagree so strongly.

What does alternative medicine include?
Like conventional medicine, alternative medicine is actually a huge set of disciplines and techniques. Here’s a quick list of just a few of those techniques:

  • acupuncture: using very thin needles on pressure points or energy centers to treat various illnesses
  • ayurveda: a varied collection of whole-body treatments originating in India
  • biofeedback: a modern technique of observing natural body function and learning control through thought patterns
  • chiropractic medicine: adjusting the bones, tendons and ligaments to treat a wide variety of conditions
  • herbalism: the use of herbs (and sometimes other plant, fungus, and animal pieces ) to treat disease instead of artificial drugs
  • homeopathy: treating conditions with tiny amounts of substances which in larger doses cause the problem in the first place
  • hypnosis: an altered state of awareness made up of both concentration and relaxation which is guided by someone else
  • meditation: the practice of focused reflection to achieve mental calm
  • naturopathy: a multi-disciplinary field using natural alternatives to treat illness, often with similarities to Western medicine
  • nutritional therapies: modifying the diet to relieve various conditions
  • traditional Chinese medicine (TCM): a multi-disciplinary field that works on balancing the chi (energy flow of the body)
  • yoga: a meditative and body practice focused on finding balance between the physical, mental and spiritual elements
  • As you can see above, alternative medicine is as broad as mainstream medicine in the variety of treatments available. Within each of these therapies, there are likewise sub-sets of therapies, differences in opinion and philosophy, just like any other subject so varied. I would love to go into it further, but I’m trying to keep this article short and sweet.

Alternative? Complementary? Integrative? What’s the difference?
If you’ve been looking into alternative medicine, you’ve likely find the terms “complementary medicine” or “integrative medicine.” Even if you haven’t yet discovered these terms, you soon will if you continue to dig deeper. Like here for example.

Complementary and integrative medicine are fundamentally the same thing. They are placed together under the acronym CAM (complementary and alternative medicine), though integrative medicine implies more professionalism. CAM is well named as it is using alternative – or unproven – treatment with proven treatments for a particular disorder. So it means using alternative therapies to complement more mainstream treatments. This is becoming more common world-wide, and more healthcare professionals are supplementing their treatments with various complementary medical treatments.

Is alternative medicine right for me?
That decision is up to you, your family, and your healthcare provider. Keep in mind that much of alternative medicine is of unknown effectiveness – in some cases even dis-proven. It’s recognized as most effective for relatively minor, chronic conditions. For more serious or sudden illness, other treatment might be better. Use your common sense, and then choose the best treatment for whatever condition you want to cure, whatever that treatment might be.

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