What Exactly is Alternative Medicine?

What Exactly is Alternative Medicine?

What Exactly is Alternative Medicine?

Loretta Lanphier, NP, CN, HHP, CH

Alternative medicine is made up of a rich collection of techniques and therapies that can fall under several headings such as alternative therapy, complimentary therapy and traditional naturopathic (holistic) therapy. All these headings serve as an “alternative” to what most people consider to be “medicine”.

David M. Eisenberg, M.D. of Harvard Medical School states that: alternative medicines are “medical interventions not taught widely at U.S. medical schools or generally available at U.S. hospitals. However, some of this is changing in medical schools and hospitals although what is offered may be very weak versions of an alternative therapy. The term alternative medicine can also be considered a code word for a series of significant challenges occurring within the American health care system today including the following:

  • The realization that conventional medicine such as antibiotics, prescription drugs, invasive surgery and chemotherapy cannot and does not solve all of America’s health concerns. (orthodox medicine based on Pasteur’s Germ Theory.
  • The growing acceptance and realization that the definition of health is not simply the “absence of disease” but instead involves body, mind and spirit.
  • The growing body of research, as well as public opinion, that states that alternative medicine is often more effective, economical, less invasive and less harmful than conventional medicine.
  • The growing number of consumers who take the time to research their health concerns and are thus open to trying alternative protocols as well as preferring to be treated by their health care practitioners as a whole person, not as a diagnosis and/or one organ.

Complementary therapy is usually implemented to compliment conventional medical treatment. It is the closest to what some believe to be a ‘foot in both camps’ of conventional and alternative medicine. It may also help one to feel better about their choice of treatments since they are using both sides of the coin so-to-speak. It may provide a non-toxic manner in which to address certain symptoms of side-effects of conventional medicine treatment. Examples would be aromatherapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, Yoga, herbal medicines, conventional naturopathy, chiropractic, etc.
Alternative therapy is generally a therapy used instead of conventional medical treatment and thus not considered orthodox. Generally these therapies are based on Bechamp’s ‘polymorphism and terrain theory’ which acknowledges and works with the body’s own built-in healing mechanisms. Most alternative therapies have not been through FDA clinical trials because they do not have the tremendous funding of pharmaceutical companies. Thus there is usually limited scientific evidence that they work even though for many of these therapies there is plenty of good anecdotal evidence of success. Just as with conventional medicine, some types of alternative therapies may not be completely safe and could cause harmful side effects. Examples of alternative therapy would be Gerson Therapy, Laetrile, Budwig Therapy, supplements, orthomolecular, energy medicine, enzyme therapy, homeopathy, herbs, alternative diets, metabolic therapy, etc.

Traditional Naturopathic therapy – holistic (according to classicalnaturopathy.org) “Naturopathy is a philosophy which encompasses a view of life, a model for living a full life. The word naturopathy is a Latin-Greek hybrid which can be defined as ‘being close to or benefiting from nature.'” — Stewart Mitchell, Naturopathy: Understanding the Healing Power of Nature

A traditional, classical naturopath specializes in wellness, teaching clients how applying natural lifestyle approaches can act to facilitate the body’s own natural healing and health building potential. The traditional naturopath does not undertake to “diagnose” or “treat diseases,” but rather recognizes that the majority of sub-health conditions are cumulative lifestyle effects, and that the underlying cause of what we call “disease” (or, “dis-ease”) is improper diet, unhealthy habits, and environmental factors which cause biological imbalances leading to a weakening of the bodies’ natural defenses and subsequent breakdown in health. The practice of Traditional Naturopathy is not considered the practice of medicine and is currently legal in all 50 states.

Today many in natural healthcare prefer to address alternative medicine simply as natural medicine – that which is closest to nature. The term “alternative medicine” seems to suggest something that is questionable or second-best. However, most complimentary, alternative and naturopathic medicine therapy comes from remedies that have a history (long before the rise of conventional/orthodox medicine) of success without toxic side effects or long-term health concerns. For example, acupuncture is an ancient technique which originated in China (as did traditional Chinese medicine and qui gong) as long ago as 2689 B.C. Yoga is amid the oldest known methods of health practiced in the world today; it was first systematically set down in writing by Patanjali in the second century, B.C. On the other hand, biofeedback and enzyme therapy are two alternative techniques which have gained prominence primarily in the twentieth century. It is interesting to note that Chiropractic medicine, naturopathic medicine, and osteopathic medicine all originated in the United States.
In trying to determine what exactly alternative medicine is, we should keep in mind that the term alternative medicine can be very individual thus meaning very different things to different people. Hence, in all practicality there is no simple definition for alternative medicine as that will satisfy everyone.

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