Alternative Medicine Defined

Alternative Medicine Defined Alternative medicine is a term that may be difficult for many to understand.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), alternative medicine is “the array of health care approaches with a history of use or origins outside of mainstream medicine.”

Two terms often used interchangeably are “complementary medicine” and “alternative medicine”.

  • Complementary medicine consists of using a non-mainstream treatment along with traditional medical treatment.
  • Alternative medicine refers to the use of non-mainstream treatment instead of traditional medicine.

Close to 40 percent of Americans use some type of alternative medicine, either in conjunction with traditional medical approaches or as a stand-alone approach in the management of specific diseases or conditions, or to achieve or maintain maximum health. Ask a doctor if alternative medicine is right for you.


natural medicine still lifeThe practice of alternative medicine in Eastern countries has been traced as far back in history as 5000 years.

Healing practitioners in China and India began using therapies to promote healing of the mind as well as the body.

In China, emphasis centered on creating a strong body and mind with the belief that strong bodies would not succumb to illness or disease. In the country of India, the alternative medical practice of Ayurveda was developed. The focus was to bring about harmony and balance of the body, spirit and mind.

Alternative medicine entered Western countries about 2000 years ago and was practiced by both professional medical doctors and at home. Treatments included use of herbal and nutritional supplements and water therapy.

As time passed, disciplines and philosophies such as naturopathy and homeopathy were developed. Multiple physical and mental illnesses and disorders were addressed and treated.


In current times, we find that practices formerly considered outside of mainstream medicine are now used in hospitals and clinics across the globe. The use of herbs and supplements has become common place and is often recommended for the treatment of a multitude of conditions.

Massage, acupressure and acupuncture are now widely prescribed by conventional physicians as studies are conducted. Illnesses and conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and chronic pain have been treated successfully. More and more, medical advice may include the use of one of these types of treatment.

What Type of Therapy is Available?

NCCAM divides these approaches into two categories: natural products or mind and body approaches.

  • Natural Products include herbs, mineral, vitamins and probiotics. As more and more research into these products is conducted, their use has become more widespread. The most popular natural products used are Echinacea and fish oil or omega 3s.
  • Mind and Body Approaches are a large group of disciplines administered by a teacher or practitioner that has received training in a specific area. The list includes are massage, acupuncture, spinal manipulation and yoga.

Other disciplines that may not fit into these categories are naturopathy, homeopathy and traditional Chinese medicine.

Use of alternative medicine should always follow medical advice. Ask a doctor if these therapies can help you manage your condition. Seek medical advice before beginning any form of therapy.