Definition: Defining the Meaning of Alternative Medicine
Alternative medicine is defined as any practice that is put forward as having the healing effects of medicine, but is not founded on evidence gathered using the scientific method. Standard care is what medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and allied health professionals, such as nurses and physical therapists, practice. The field of complementary and alternative medicine is known as CAM. Complementary medicine can be used together with standard medical care. An example is using acupuncture to help with side effects of cancer treatment.
What is Alternative Medicine
Alternative Medicine is defined as medicine that encompasses any healing practice "that does not fall within the realm of conventional medicine." Commonly cited examples include naturopathy, chiropractic, herbalism, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, meditation, yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, homeopathy, acupuncture, and diet-based therapies, in addition to a range of other practices.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is a broad domain of resources that encompasses health systems, modalities, and practices and their accompanying theories and beliefs, other than those intrinsic to the dominant health system of a particular society or culture in a given historical period. However bear in mind that what are considered complementary or alternative practices in one country may be considered conventional medical practices in another.
According to the NCCAM formerly unproven remedies may be incorporated into conventional medicine if they are shown to be safe and effective.
NCCAM classifies complementary and alternative therapies into five major groups and some overlap.
- Energy medicine is a domain that deals with putative and verifiable energy fields.
- Biologically based practices use substances found in nature such as herbs, foods, vitamins, and other natural substances.
- Manipulative and body-based practices feature manipulation or movement of body parts, such as is done in chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation.
- Mind-body medicine takes a holistic approach to health that explores the interconnection between the mind, body, and spirit. It works under the premise that the mind can affect "bodily functions and symptoms".
Whole medical systems cut across more than one of the other groups; examples include Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.
- Aromatherapy is when aroma-rich oils are extracted from specific plants. These oils are mixed with other materials like alcohol, oils, lotions etc to give the desired effects on the body.
- Ayurveda is a system of traditional medicine native to India, and practiced in other parts of the world as a form of alternative medicine. Evolving throughout its history, Ayurveda remains an influential system of medicine in South Asia.
- Biofeedback is a form of alternative medicine that involves measuring a subject's quantifiable bodily functions such as skin temperature, sweat gland activity, blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension, conveying the information to the patient in real-time.
- Detoxification is an alternative medicine approach which proponents claim rid the body of "toxins", accumulated harmful substances that are alleged to exert a negative effect on individual health. The idea of a good detox diet is to eat pure and natural foods that will aid the function of the lymph, kidneys, and liver.
- Herbalism is a traditional medicinal or folk medicine practice based on the use of plants and plant extracts. Herbalism is also known as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbal medicine, herbology, and phytotherapy.
- Holistic health is a philosophy of medical care that views physical and mental aspects of life as closely interconnected and equally important approaches to treatment. While frequently associated with alternative medicine, it is also increasingly used in mainstream medical practice as part of a broad view of patient care.
- Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine based upon principles first defined by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796. A central thesis of homeopathy is that an ill person can be treated using a substance that can produce, in a healthy person, symptoms similar to those of the illness.
- Home remedies are a treatment to cure a disease or ailment that employs certain spices, vegetables, or other common items. Home remedies may or may not have medicinal properties that treat or cure the disease or ailment in question, as they are typically passed along.
- Reiki is a spiritual practice developed in 1922 by Mikao Usui. After three weeks of fasting and meditating on Mount Kurama, in Japan, Usui claimed to receive the ability of "healing without energy depletion". A portion of the practice, tenohira or palm healing, is used as a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Tenohira is a technique whereby practitioners believe they are moving "healing energy" (a form of ki) through the palms.
- Traditional Chinese medicine (also known as TCM) includes a range of traditional medical practices originating in China. It is considered a Complementary or Alternative Medical system in much of the western world while remaining as a form of primary care throughout most of Asia.
Many people utilize mainstream medicine for diagnosis and basic information, while turning to alternatives for what they believe to be health-enhancing measures. Studies indicate that alternative approaches are often used in conjunction with conventional medicine. This is referred to by NCCAM as integrative (or integrated) medicine because it "combines treatments from conventional medicine and CAM for which there is some high-quality evidence of safety and effectiveness.
Alternative medicine has been a source of vigorous debate, even over the definition of alternative medicine.
Dietary supplements, their ingredients, safety, and claims, are a continual source of controversy.
In some cases, political issues, mainstream medicine and alternative medicine all collide, such as the case where synthetic drugs are legal but the herbal sources of the same active chemical are banned.
Alternative medicine practices are as diverse in their foundations as in their methodologies. Practices may incorporate or base themselves on traditional medicine, folk knowledge, spiritual beliefs, or newly conceived approaches to healing.
Quick Facts: CAM Therapy
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) classified CAM therapies as:
- Energy medicine
- Mind-body medicine
- Whole medical systems
- Biologically based practices
- Manipulative and body-based practices