Alternative Medicine

There Are Many Types of Alternative Medicine

Aromatherapy oils with woman in background
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Alternative medicine is an approach to medicine that is offered as an alternative to, and is commonly used to replace the traditional treatments and therapies.

There is no exact definition of what alternative medicine encompasses, although it may include swallowing or applying herbal substances, adhering to a special diet, or a combination of approaches that are not usually recommended by a doctor who practices conventional medicine.

It usually places on emphasis on natural remedies, rather than prescribed medicine. Common types of alternative medicine include the utilization of natural products, deep breathing practices, and meditation.

For example, a patient who chooses alternative medicine as a route to treat his cancer might believe that a special diet may be more useful or beneficial than an alternative like chemotherapy.

In the United States

Most commonly, when an individual needs medical treatment, care, or attention in the United States, we most often expect to find a doctor who practices forms of traditional medicine. Traditional medicine is sometimes referred to as allopathic medicine.

Typically, this traditional medicine provides for a diagnosis, then a course of treatment for the diagnosis using drugs or other therapies that have been developed through observation over time, as well as through research studies and clinical trials.

Examples are pharmaceutical drugs, surgeries and others.

Other Parts of the World

Eastern cultures (Chinese culture, for example) have developed medical treatments over thousands of years that are just now becoming more accepted in the United States. Those treatments and therapies are usually called complementary or alternative medicine (CAM).

The National Institutes of Health now recognizes some alternative therapies. Alternative therapies have not been as readily embraced as complementary therapies, and have not yet been adopted by most patients or providers in Western cultures like those in the United States, Canada or Europe.

Common Types of Complementary Health Approaches

There are many different forms of alternative medicine. The exact type of alternative medicine utilized varies based on the preferences on the individual, and what they are hoping to achieve with their treatment.

Below is information from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey that depicts the most common complementary health approaches among adults in the United States.

Natural products: 17.7 percent of adults
Deep breathing: 10.9 percent of adults
Yoga, tai chi, or qi gong: 10.1 percent of adults
Chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation: 8.4 percent of adults
Meditation: 8.0 percent of adults
Massage: 6.9 percent of adults
Special diets: 3.0 percent of adults
Homeopathy: 2.2 percent of adults
Progressive relaxation: 2.1 percent of adults
Guided imagery: 1.7 percent of adults


Alternative medicine faces its fair share of criticism from the medical community, for utilizing practices that are not necessarily backed in scientific research.

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