Updated: Dec 28, 2022
Alternative medicine is a broad and somewhat mysterious term, with different, complementary, and alternative medicine practices finding favor in different countries all over the world. Depending on who you ask, certain techniques could be seen as 'mainstream' while others are regarded as outside of conventional medicine.
Of course, all this begs the question: is alternative medicine better than conventional? Well, let's dive into the world of complementary and alternative medicine to find out just what it really has to offer - the answer might surprise you.
What are the 5 major types of alternative medicine?
Alternative medicine has diversified and expanded over the years, offering alternative therapeutic treatments for various ailments. Far from the traditional medical treatments associated with modern medicine, alternative therapies seek to treat the person as a whole rather than separating symptoms and conditions.
There are five major types of alternative medicine that are commonly pursued:
Whole medical systems
Biologically based practices
Manipulative and body-based therapies
People today who are looking for alternative healing solutions beyond Western medicine can explore these alternative healing practices - each with its own unique approach to health and wellbeing. By investigating these methods, individuals may be able to find unique ways in which to improve their overall health and wellness in a way that works best for them.
What is Considered Alternative Medicine?
Alternative medicine encompasses a wide range of complementary and alternative medical practices and systems from cultures around the world.
This type of medicine is often used in countries such as the United States to subvert or supplement conventional medical practices with methods that are "outside the box." Some common modalities include reiki, acupuncture, herbal remedies, yoga, meditation, and massage therapy.
While definitions of alternative medicine differ between regions, it’s generally understood to be any complementary, non-conventional method or practice focused on treating a physical, mental, or emotional issue.
Not only is this type of treatment often more accessible and cheaper than traditional treatments but it can also provide long-lasting relief by addressing underlying causes rather than just covering up symptoms. Ultimately, whether alternative medicine is seen as better than conventional methods depends on the individual's unique needs and preferences.
Are Complementary and Alternative Medicine the Same Thing?
Complementary medicine and alternative medicine (CAM) is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide array of approaches to wellness and healing. So it's no surprise that many people have difficulty distinguishing between complementary and alternative medicine. The terms are often used interchangeably without recognizing the key differences between them.
Generally speaking, while complementary medicine is intended to be used in addition to conventional treatments, alternative medicine is used separately from conventional therapies. For example, someone treating their hypertension with conventional medicine might choose to supplement those treatments with complementary medicine techniques such as Reiki or acupuncture; whereas someone suffering from chronic headaches may opt for energy healing or homeopathy as an alternative treatment approach.
It’s important to note that complementary medicine and alternative treatments should not be used in lieu of conventional medical care - but when incorporated properly, complementary approaches can support overall health and provide natural relief from long-term pain and other conditions.
How Do Integrative Medicine and Holistic Medicine Differ?
Integrative medicine is an integrative, evidence-based practice that combines traditional and alternative methods together in a comprehensive approach. Where integrative medicine looks to combine conventional and less common methods of healing, holistic medicine views the individual as a “whole” – providing holistic treatment that considers mental, physical, and spiritual health.
Holistic options include integrative health, and complementary and alternative practices such as massage therapy, acupuncture, and herbal remedies. Integrative medicine strives to use the best medical techniques from different healthcare systems combined with integrative therapies to focus on wellness rather than illness.
Both integrative and holistic medicine focus on considering the whole person to maintain good health while also healing any physical or emotional issues they may be experiencing.
What is the Difference Between Holistic and Alternative Medicine?
Holistic and alternative medicine seek to treat the entire person—body, spirit, and mind. As opposed to mainstream medicine which focuses on treating individual symptoms, holistic and alternative therapies create a plan to address overall well-being.
Although the two practices do employ some of the same practices, such as acupuncture and dietary supplements, treatment plans created by holistic practitioners often include meditation or yoga while naturopathic doctors commonly focus on botanicals and homeopathic remedies.
Furthermore, instead of taking a strictly chemical approach to healthcare like mainstream medicine, alternative medicine practitioners are also focused on lifestyle changes that can improve or maintain good health.
For this reason, it is essential to understand the differences between these two approaches when choosing one that is right for you.
What is a practitioner of alternative medicine?
A practitioner of alternative medicine is a type of doctor that believes health and wellness should be approached from a holistic perspective. This type of healthcare seeks to diagnose and treat the underlying causes of illness instead of just treating the symptoms.
These practitioners use alternative therapy such as herbal supplements, nutritional counseling, exercise regimens, lifestyle modifications, vitamin therapy, and traditional Chinese medicine in conjunction with conventional medical techniques to maximize healing effects for the patient.
Naturopathic physicians strive to achieve better wellness outcomes for their clients by considering the entire person, body, and mind, rather than simply treating an isolated malady.
What is Herbal Medicine?
Herbal medicine has been around for centuries, with documented evidence of herbal remedies dating back as far as ancient cultures in Africa and China. Through the evolving world of herbal medicine, we can see how herbalists, herbal pharmacists, nutritionists, and other healthcare practitioners come together to use herbal ingredients to treat disease and promote general health. Herbalism is a completely different practice from conventional medicine despite its similarities.
While pharmaceutical drugs are designed to target certain conditions directly, the alternative medicine practice of herbal medicine works differently. Herbal medicines strategy instead of suppressing symptoms is to strengthen the body's own healing capabilities by increasing strength and vitality in order for the body to fight off diseases itself.
It is important that when using herbal medicine the same level of caution should be applied as when consuming any pharmaceutical drugs - research and knowledge needs to be gathered thoroughly before partaking in herbal treatments or supplements.
What are ayurvedic medicines?
Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient herbal-based healing system developed in India more than 3,000 years ago. Ayurvedic medicine is still widely used today as both a complementary form of treatment to conventional medicines, and as a stand-alone system for maintaining health and treating disease.
Different from many forms of naturopathic medicine, Ayurvedic medicine is comprehensive and systematic and though it's ancient in origin, its holistic approach to health is still pertinent and relevant - what better way to heal than using herbal medicine combined with the power of positivity?
Which Ayurvedic Medicine is best?
When faced with an illness, alternative medicine such as ayurvedic medicine may provide a viable alternative to conventional medicine. Ayurveda – the traditional Indian system of medicine – has been used for millennia and is still widely practiced today.
One of the most popular ayurvedic medicines used is Ashwagandha, which has numerous uses from enhancing cognitive functions to regulating hormones.
Similar substances such as Brahmi and Shatavari may also be beneficial in treating neurological disorders. Licorice root, Neem, Manjistha and Amala are also known ayurvedic remedies with purported properties relating to immunity and detoxification.
Finally, Haritaki, is another key supplement promoted by herbalists in ayurvedic medicine that can be employed towards digestive health or treating infections like parasites. When exploring alternative medicine, it’s important to do your research before trying anything out and always consult with a certified practitioner if possible.