What Is Alternative Medicine?

By Maria Andersson, ArabiaMD Team

Alternative medicine is the name given to any of a large group of therapeutic interventions outside the remit of modern medical science. The practice of holistic medicine is a concept common to practitioners of alternative medicine; the idea of treating a person as a whole and considering the context of an illness within their body and life. This means that at an appointment with a holistic doctor or practitioner of alternative medicine they will make an assessment of their patient’s general health, lifestyle, diet and mental well-being as well as the specific symptoms or illness undergoing treatment.

Alternative medicines can sometimes be seen as a response to feeling like conventional medicine is becoming increasingly esoteric and elite. Complex, specialized scientific and medical jargon can make some people feel isolated and want something that seems simpler and more natural. The appeal of natural medicine is that it feels safe, clean, and understandable. However, practitioners of alternative medicines should know when it’s important to recommend their patients try other avenues, including conventional treatment.

What Types of Alternative Medicine Are There?

There are many different types of alternative medicine, including:

Homeopathy – this is based on the idea that a substance that produces certain symptoms can also cure those symptoms. Homeopathic medicines are usually in the form of a tablet or liquid to be taken by mouth and contain extremely dilute amounts of a natural substance associated with the symptom to be cured. Homeopathic teachings include a knowledge of the qualities and attributes of many natural substances and their use in homeopathic therapy. A homeopath assesses their patients holistically, often in their own home or an alternative therapies clinic, and will revisit to assess the efficacy of the treatment and amend their recommendations accordingly.

Naturopathy – a naturopath seeks to improve a person’s health using all-natural methods, based on the concept that the body and mind are inextricably linked and that a lifestyle, diet, and mindset that is as clean and natural as possible will enable the body to keep itself healthy. Naturopathy is linked with many other areas of alternative therapy, and there are elements of naturopathy in some conventional medical recommendations too.

Herbal medicine is the study and use of plant-based medicines. A consultation with a herbalist will include an assessment of you as a whole person, your family history and any possible underlying causes to your complaint. A herbalist may make recommendations about your diet as well as recommending a specific course of medicinal herbs.

There are many other forms of alternative medicine, including massage, aromatherapy, hypnosis. Some of these are used instead of conventional medicine, and some of these are used in conjunction with and are then known as ‘complementary’ therapies.

Some treatments do work together well, but some herbal treatments and conventional medicines shouldn’t be taken at the same, so it’s always important to tell your usual prescriber if you start a course of alternative medication.