What is Allopathic Medicine?

Allopathic vs Alternative Medicine

surgeons operating as a form of allopathic medicine
What is the definition of allopathic medicine. National Cancer Institute, John Crawford (photographer)

Definition: Allopathic Medicine

Allopathic medicine refers to the practice of traditional or conventional Western medicine. The term allopathic medicine is most often used to contrast conventional medicine with alternative/complementary medicine or homeopathy.  Integrative medicine is the term that is now used in a way that refers to combining the best of alternative medicine with the best of conventional medicine.

History of Allopathic Medicine

The term allopathic medicine was coined in the 1800's to differentiate 2 types of medicine.  Homeopathy was on one side and was based on the theory that "like cures like."  The thought is that very small doses of a substance that cause the symptoms of a disease could be used to alleviate that disease.  In contrast, allopathic medicine was defined as the practice of using opposites; using treatments that have the opposite effects of the symptoms of a condition.  At that time, the term allopathic medicine was often used in a derogatory sense, and referring to radical treatments such as bleeding people to relieve a fever.

Present Day

At the present time, the term allopathic medicine is not used in a derogatory way and instead describes current Western medicine. Other terms which are often used interchangeably with allopathic medicine include:

  • Conventional medicine
  • Traditional Western medicine
  • Orthodox medicine
  • Mainstream medicine
  • Biomedicine
  • Evidence-based medicine (In actuality, an alternative medicine approach could be considered evidence-based if significant research has evaluated its efficacy. For example, if acupuncture was shown in a credible controlled trial to relieve a particular type of pain, then acupuncture for that pain would fit under the criteria of evidence-based medicine)

    These are usually contrasted with practices such as :

    • Alternative medicine
    • Eastern medicine
    • Chinese medicine
    • Homeopathy

    Integrative Medicine - Combining East and West

    The current trend in many major medical centers in the United States has been coined "integrative medicine." In this practice, patients theoretically receive the benefit of the best of both worlds, though conventional medicine remains the mainstay of treatment.

    Integrative Cancer Care - An Example of Combining Allopathic and Alternative Medicine

    An example of integrative care -- using the combination of both western medicine and alternative medicine -- is occurring throughout the United States at this time in many major medical centers.  Allopathic medicine -- treatments including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and others -- are being used to treat cancer, but "alternative methods such as acupuncture and meditation are added in to help patients cope with the side effects of cancer and its treatments. Some of these integrative methods which are being used in large cancer centers include:

    • Acupuncture - Acupuncture is the practice of placing needles along meridians (the body's energy fields) in order to balance energy.
    • Massage therapy - Massage has been found to have some general benefits, as well as benefits which specifically help cancer patients.
    • Reiki
    • Yoga
    • Qigong - This is a practice of using meditation and controlled breathing in order to balance energy in the body.
    • Healing touch - Healing touch is a practice in which a practitioner moves her hands over a patient's body in ​an attempt to facilitate well-being and healing.

    Also Known As: mainstream medicine,orthodox medicine,biomedicine

    Examples: After being diagnosed with lung cancer, Joe decided to seek therapy at a cancer center that offered both allopathic medicine and alternative treatments


    National Cancer Institute. Allopathic Medicine. Accessed 10/30/15. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms?cdrid=454742

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