What is alternative medicine?

Alternative medicine practices are used instead of standard medical treatments. Alternative medicine is distinct from complementary medicine which is meant to accompany, not to replace, standard medical practices. Alternative medical practices are generally not recognized by the medical community as standard or conventional medical approaches.

Alternative medicine includes dietary supplements, megadose vitamins, herbal preparations, special teas, massage therapy, magnet therapy, and spiritual healing.

What are complementary and alternative medicine therapies?

Complementary and alternative medicine therapies fall into five major categories, or domains:Alternative Medical Systems

  1. Alternative medical systems: are built upon complete systems of theory and practice. Often, these systems have evolved apart from and earlier than the conventional medical approach used in the United States. Examples of alternative medical systems that have developed in Western cultures include homeopathic medicine and naturopathic medicine. Examples of systems that have developed in non-Western cultures include traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.

  2. Mind-Body Interventions:  Mind-body medicine uses a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind’s capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. Some techniques that were considered CAM in the past have become mainstream (for example, patient support groups and cognitive-behavioral therapy). Other mind-body techniques are still considered CAM, including meditation, prayer, mental healing, and therapies that use creative outlets such as art, music, or dance.

  3. Biologically Based Therapies: Biologically based therapies in CAM use substances found in nature, such as herbs, foods, and vitamins. Some examples include dietary supplements,3 herbal products, and the use of other so-called natural but as yet scientifically unproven therapies (for example, using shark cartilage to treat cancer).

  4. Manipulative and Body-Based Methods: Manipulative and body-based methods in CAM are based on manipulation and/or movement of one or more parts of the body. Some examples include chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, and massage.

  5. Energy Therapies: Energy therapies involve the use of energy fields. They are of two types:

  • Biofield therapiesare intended to affect energy fields that purportedly surround and penetrate the human body. The existence of such fields has not yet been scientifically proven. Some forms of energy therapy manipulate biofields by applying pressure and/or manipulating the body by placing the hands in, or through, these fields. Examples include qi gong, Reiki, and Therapeutic Touch.

  • Bioelectromagnetic-based therapies involve the unconventional use of electromagnetic fields, such as pulsed fields, magnetic fields, or alternating-current or direct-current fields.

 

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can include the following:

  • acupuncture,

  • Alexander technique,

  • aromatherapy,

  • Ayurveda (Ayurvedic medicine),

  • biofeedback,

  • chiropractic medicine,

  • diet therapy,

  • herbalism,

  • holistic nursing,

  • homeopathy,

  • hypnosis,

  • massage therapy,

  • meditation,

  • naturopathy,

  • nutritional therapy,

  • osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT),

  • Qi gong (internal and external Qiging),

  • reflexology,

  • Reiki,

  • spiritual healing,

  • Tai Chi,

  • traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and

  • yoga