Alternative medicine is a term used to describe other forms of therapy other than traditional Western or allopathic medicine. Instead of using standard medical treatments, alternative practices are used. Alternative medicine differs from complementary medicine which does not replace medical practices that are standard but accompanies them instead. In general, the medical community does not recognise alternative medical practices as conventional or standard.
Alternative medicine includes disciplines such as spiritual healing, magnet therapy, massage therapy, herbal preparations and dietary supplements.
There are five major domains, or categories, into which alternative and complementary medical therapies fall into.
Medical Systems That are Considered to be Alternative
Complete systems of both theory and practice provide the basis for alternative medical systems. In many cases, the systems evolved earlier than and apart from the approach that is taken by the conventional medicine commonly practiced in the Western world.
Naturopathic and homeopathic medicine developed within Western culture and were examples of alternative medical systems. Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine are examples of medical systems that arose in cultures, not of the West.
Interventions Between Mind And Body
To help the mind to affect both disease symptoms and bodily function, a variety of techniques exists in mind-body medicine. Cognitive behavioural therapy and patient support groups were considered to be CAM (Complimentary and Alternative Medicine) techniques in the past but have now entered the mainstream. However, mind-body therapies using dance, music, art, or other creative outlets and mental healing, prayer, and meditation are still considered CAM.
Therapies That Are Based On Biology
In CAM, there are therapies that are biologically based that rely on natural substances, such as vitamins, foods, and herbs. Some examples are not proven scientifically but are natural, such as treating cancer using shark cartilage. Others make use of herbal products and dietary supplements.
Body-Based and Manipulative Methods
Body-based and manipulative methods in CAM either physically move or manipulate a single or multiple parts of the body. Examples include massage therapy, osteopathic manipulation, or chiropractic care.
Therapies Using Energy
Energy fields are used in energy therapies. There are two primary types:
Biofield therapies work by affecting the fields of energy that penetrate and surround the human body. There is no scientific proof that these fields exist. Some types of energy therapy manipulate these fields by applying pressure or moving hands through the fields. Examples include therapeutic touch, Reiki, and qi gong.
Electromagnetic fields are used unconventionally in bioelectromagnetic-based therapy. The fields used may be direct current, alternating current, magnetic, or pulsed fields.
Here is an interesting interview with Dr Kelly McCann on alternative medicine