Alternative medicine

From WikiMD's Health & Wellness Encyclopedia

Alternative medicine represents a broad category of health therapies not traditionally included within conventional Western healthcare. These practices may be used in lieu of standard medical treatments, or in conjunction with them, a practice commonly referred to as "complementary medicine." In situations where both conventional and alternative practitioners coordinate their treatments, the approach is often termed "integrative medicine."


Principles and Practice

Alternative medicine practices often stem from spiritual, metaphysical, or religious beliefs, non-European medical traditions, or newly devised healing approaches. They do not typically rely on evidence collected through clinical trials; instead, they may be based on historical, cultural, anecdotal, or personal evidence.


Prominent examples of alternative medicine modalities include:

  • Acupuncture: A component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to alleviate various ailments.
  • Chiropractic: Originating in the late 19th century, chiropractic practice is based on the manipulation of the spine and other parts of the body to treat ailments, particularly those related to the musculoskeletal system.
  • Homeopathy: Founded in the late 18th century, homeopathy utilizes highly diluted substances with the aim to stimulate the body's self-healing mechanisms.

Research and Evidence

The effectiveness and safety of alternative medicine practices can vary widely, and robust scientific research supporting their use is often lacking. Nonetheless, some forms of alternative medicine, such as certain herbal remedies or mindfulness practices, have been supported by a growing body of research evidence. Patients should consult with healthcare professionals before initiating any alternative therapies, especially if they have existing medical conditions or are taking other medications.

Criticism and Controversy

Alternative medicine has been a subject of controversy within the healthcare community due to its departure from accepted medical approaches and a lack of evidence demonstrating its effectiveness. Concerns about the safety and quality of alternative treatments, including issues related to regulation and potential side effects, have also been raised.


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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD