Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Definition, Examples, Types and Benefits – InStyleHealth

What Is Alternative Medicine?

Alternative medicine is a term given or used to describe the different or various forms of medicine other than the conventional methods or practices that we know today. Alternative medicine includes various medical practices covering non-European or non-Western medical practices and some new approaches to medical methods.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Definition, Examples, Types and Benefits – InStyleHealth
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There is an increasing interest in the Western nations of alternative medicine, with the increasing research and new findings in medical practices. While the Eastern part of the world, there are some forms of alternative medicine which has been practiced for centuries. This increasing trend in the West was caused by the growth of medical education among people and the increasing amount of travel to different parts of the world. There are more documentary references available on the subject and the medical societies specializing in different forms of alternative medicine are present.

There is another sophisticated form of medical practice that combines both the conventional and the alternative medicine and it is called complementary medicine.

Which Is An Example of Alternative Medication?

Here are some of examples and the most common forms of alternative medicine out there and we will describe each one of these forms:

Complementary medicine, on the other hand, is different from alternative medicine. This practice is usually applied together with conventional medication or treatment. While, alternative medicine is being utilized instead of the conventional medication.

  • Acupuncture
  • Homeopathy
  • Naturopathic Medicine
  • Osteopathy

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an ancient art which originated in the Orient. This medical practice involves manipulating and inserting needles into special points in the body. It is believed to restore health and create well-being. Several forms of acupuncture that are taught worldwide. It is one of the most popular forms of alternative medicine which existed and practiced for a long time.

What Is Homeopathy?

Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine that tries to stimulate the body’s immune system in order to promote healing. This medical practice of homeopathy strives to bring the entire body back into homeostasis or balance.

What Is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is another alternative medicine which is a medical practice that is designed to stimulate the body’s own healing system. The said system uses multiple forms of alternative medicine. The system can also be referred to as Natural Therapy, and can include dietary supplements, exercise, and different foods.

What Is Osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a form of alternative medicine, from the Greek word ‘osteon’ which means bone, and ‘patheia’ which means disease or disorder,  based on manipulating the joints of the body. This medical practice is still use for chronic back pain. This is often utilized with other forms of medicine.

It is very important and highly recommended to consult doctors when treating illnesses and serious diseases. A lot of doctors will endorse some alternative medicine together with conventional medicine, especially if the conventional medicine is not proving to be effective for a chronic condition.

Some alternative medicine can work surprisingly well despite the lack of supporting clinical studies. This will all depend on a specific illness and the body’s functionality whether the alternative medicine is suited or works well.

What Does Alternative Medicine Do?

What the alternative medicine does is being utilized for treatment rather than using the standard medical procedure. One particular example application of alternative medicine is using a special diet to treat cancer instead of cancer drugs prescribed by an oncologist.

Complementary medicine, on the other hand, is utilized together with the standard medical treatment; however, is not considered by itself to be a standard treatment. One specific example is by utilizing acupuncture to help minimize some side effects of cancer treatment.

What Are The 5 Major Types or Domains of Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

The most widely known and utilized types or domains of complementary and alternative medicine or CAM therapies are the following:

  • Biologically Based Practices
  • Biofield Therapy
  • Manipulative and Body-Based Practices
  • Mind-body Therapies
  • Whole Medical System

What Are The Types of Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

There are currently 5 types of complementary and alternative medicines or CAM therapies. Scientists learn about Complementary and Alternative Medicine or CAM therapies every day, but there is still more to know and explore in this field.

Some of the therapies listed below necessitates further research to prove that they can be beneficial. If one has cancer, this should be discussed about using CAM with a health care provider before using the therapies listed below.

Experts often use the following five categories to describe the CAM therapies. These are listed below with some examples for each category:

Biologically Based Practices

This is a type of Complementary and Alternative Medicine or CAM that uses things found in nature. Some examples are the following:

  • Botanicals – these are plants or parts of plants. One specific type is cannabis.
  • Herbs and spices such as turmeric or cinnamon or capsicum.
  • Special foods or diets.
  • Vitamins and dietary supplements.

Biofield Therapy

Biofield therapy is also known as energy medicine, which involves the belief that the body has energy fields that can be utilized for healing and wellness. Therapists utilize pressure or move the body by placing their hands in or through these fields. Some particular examples are the following:

Reiki – originally founded by Mikao Usui from Japan, is the practice of balancing energy either from a distance or by placing hands on or near the patient.

Therapeutic touch – It is a practice of moving hands over energy fields of the body to promote healing process.

Manipulative and Body-Based Practices

These practices are based on working with one or more parts of the body. Some examples are the following:

Massage – The soft tissues of the body are kneaded, rubbed, tapped, and stroked.

Chiropractic therapy – This is a type of manipulating the spine, joints, and skeletal system.

Reflexology – Utilizing the pressure points in the hands or feet to affect other parts of the body.

Mind–Body Therapies

These therapies combine mental focus, breathing, and body movements to support in relaxing the body and the mind. Here are some examples:

Biofeedback – Utilizing simple machines, the patient will learn how to affect certain body functions that are normally out of one’s awareness, specifically the heart rate.

Creative Outlets – To having interests such as art, music, or dancing.

Hypnosis – This is a state of relaxed and focused attention in which a person concentrates on a certain feeling, thought, or suggestion to support the healing process.

Imagery – Visualizing images of scenes, pictures, or experiences to assist in the healing of the body.

Meditation – This is a method of focused breathing or repetition of words or phrases to quiet the mind.

Tai Chi – An ancient Chinese practice that involves slow, gentle movements with a focus on the breath and concentration.

Yoga – An ancient Northern India practice which is a system of stretches and poses, with special attention given to breathing.

Whole Medical System

Considered to be the healing systems and beliefs that have grown and developed over time in different cultures and parts of the world. Some examples of these healing systems are the following:

Acupuncture – This is a common practice in Chinese medicine that involves stimulating certain points on the body to promote health, or to lessen disease symptoms and treatment side effects.

Ayurvedic medicine – This is a system that originated from India where the goal is to cleanse the body and restore balance to the body, mind, and spirit.

Homeopathy – A practice that utilizes very small doses of substances to trigger the body to heal itself.

Naturopathic medicine – Utilizes different methods that supports the body to naturally heal itself. A particular example would be herbal treatments.

Traditional Chinese medicine – This is a system originated from China that is based on the belief that health is a balance in the body of two forces called yin and yang.

Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine Safe?

There are some CAM therapies that underwent careful evaluation and have been found to be generally safe and effective. These therapies include acupuncture, yoga, and meditation to name a few. On the other hand, there are other therapies found that are ineffective, considered harmful, or could react negatively with your standard medications.

CAM Therapies Being Natural Does Not Necessarily Mean Safe

CAM Therapies or Complementary and Alternative Medicine therapies consist a wide variety of botanicals and nutritional products, like  herbal and dietary supplements, and vitamins. These products do not require approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before being sold to the public. More so, a prescription is not even needed to buy these products. Therefore, it is up to the individual to decide what is best for you. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Herbal supplements can be harmful when taken by themselves, with other substances, or specially in large doses. Some studies have shown that kava kava, an herb that has been used to aid with stress and anxiety, can cause liver damage.

While St. John’s wort, which some people use this for treating depression, will cause certain cancer medicines to not work as well as intended or simply put, the medicine will lose its efficacy.

It is highly recommended that one must speak to a healthcare professional when taking any dietary supplements, even if these are just vitamins, regardless if one thinks these are harmless or ads claiming that the products are safe and effective.

It’s crucially important for a person to have a healthy and proper diet. One has to have a well-rounded approach, consuming a variety of foods that are beneficial to you.

What Are The Advantages of Alternative Medicine?

There are many advantages to utilizing alternative medicine over the typical mainstream medical prescriptions and medicines. Health care professionals themselves, are even becoming more open to utilizing alternative medicine and acknowledging the benefits it will have for the body in general.

Alternative Medicine does not have bad side effects. When using mainstream medicine, you might be able to get rid of your headache, however, the side effects may include nausea, hallucinations, and risk of stroke in the process. Almost all mainstream medicine has some type of precautions about the adverse side effects that come from taking it, where most alternative medicine bears minimal to no adverse side effects.

Alternative Medicine doesn’t offer dependency treatment options. The prescription pills will cause dependency and other adverse side effects to the body and mind. Alternative medicine does not possess those same disadvantages.

Alternative Medicine is an improvement of the Quality of Life (QoL). When we utilize prescription medicines we generally see an improvement in pain, however, once the medicine is removed from our system the pain returns. But using an alternative medicine, there is a significant improvement in the quality of life a person can have.

Alternative Medicine is more flexible. Alternative medicine has more flexibility in treatment programs. Many alternative medicine professionals change their treatment programs according to lifestyle changes of the patient, unlike mainstream medical professionals would not.

Alternative Medicine is safer. Alternative medicine consists a wide variety of therapies, and these are almost always considered to be much safer than mainstream medications. The natural remedies are utilized to address the problem. There are no man-made and artificial substances that would be used to be placed in one’s body.

Alternative Medicine looks at overall health of your body. Alternative medicine concentrates on healing pain and disease by balancing out the other aspects of the patient. Sleeping, nutrition, and stress can affect the body, so adapting health programs with these in mind is important with alternative medicine. On the other hand, mainstream medication is not well rounded compared with the alternative medicine.

Alternative Medicine treats the actual cause. One of the best advantages that alternative medicine provides is that it helps in healing the body and is designed to actually treat the cause of the pain or disease. Understanding and treating the disease, alternative medicine professionals are able to work at the root cause of the medical problem. Mainstream medicine, meanwhile, tends to treat the symptom that the disease or pain is causing, not directly or actually treating the root of the problem.

When working in collaboration with traditional treatment, as prescribed by your doctor and physical therapy team,

There are some complementary medical techniques will enhance your recovery and make it more comfortable that can be applied together with traditional treatment, when prescribed by the doctor. Advantages, thus far, are conclusive, which include the following:

Alternative Medicine is a natural and healthy approach. Alternative medicine is all about re-harmonizing or rebalancing the energy in the body. Utilizing natural substances such as herbs and oils, alternative medicine is more gentle than traditional medication and typically does not cause adverse side effects to the body. One should consult with a doctor, however, before taking any supplements to ensure these will not interact with any current medications taken.

Alternative Medicine is less expensive. The mainstream traditional medicine requires high tech equipment, engineered medicines, and surgical procedures that are very costly. Meanwhile, alternative medicine uses energies, oils, herbs and therapeutic touch to heal, treatments which, generally, are less expensive and more practical. However, insurance usually does not cover alternative treatments.

Alternative Medicine offers whole body care. Alternative medicine is concentrated not just on your body, but also on your mind as well. Comparing it with traditional medicine, alternative medical practitioners believe that the mind and body are interconnected. Instead of focusing on fixing a particular area of the body for any illness, alternative medicine practitioners consider the lifestyle habits as part of the overall body healing process.

Alternative Medicines are personal and unique. By focusing on the whole body, alternative medicines are more personal and unique. Alternative medicine practitioners spend more time doing one-on-one consultation to properly evaluate the emotional and spiritual health as well as the nutritional and other physical needs of the patient.

What Are The Disadvantages of Alternative Medicine?

The following are the disadvantages of alternative medicine:

Alternative Medicine has longer term treatment. The traditional medical procedures are fast and easy. However, with alternative medicine, it is like a marathon, not a sprint. Alternative medicine is based on natural or organic products and how these interact with and promote healing process of the body. Alternative medicines require a longer treatment period and healing time because it concentrates on healing the problem at the root cause. It will also necessitate the patient to have an active role in the healing process to achieve full recovery.

Alternative Medicine has minimal scientific research. Evidence is still limited when it comes to scientific proof or clinical studies. A lot of people are still skeptical about the reliability of alternative medicine as a treatment option. Methods that have worked for some people do not work for others. Alternative medicine is not 100% proven to cure every health-related-problem of every person.

Alternative Medicine has no regulation. Most of the alternative medicines out there are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Thus, it is highly suggested that anyone who is thinking of utilizing alternative medicine, must do due diligence or thorough research. Talk to a medical professional for proper guidance. Make sure to be well-informed about different forms of alternative medicines and trustworthy practices. One must ask for referrals and references before taking chances with your health in alternative medicine.

Alternative Medicine is not useful in emergency cases. During an emergency, alternative medicines will not do you much good. Traditional medicine is made to work faster. Should one be in an emergency situation, turn to the traditional medical professions for proper medication.

Why People Use Complementary or Alternative Therapies?

There are several reasons why people use complementary or alternative therapies.

A study that was published in 2012 has suggested that around 50% of people who are suffering cancer use some sort of complementary therapy at some time during their treatment period.

However, there is no evidence to recommend that any type of complementary prevents or cures cancer. There are some therapies, however, have minimal research evidence to show that it can address some certain symptoms like pain or hot flushes.

However, there is an on-going research and evidences are being collected for some types of CAM therapies that are beneficial.

How CAM Therapies Can Help You Feel Better?

Complementary therapies are often used by people to help them feel better and cope with having illness and while undergoing medical treatment.

There are many complementary therapies available that focus on relaxation and reducing stress in patients. These therapies will aid to calm emotions, relieve anxiety, and increase the general sense of health and well-being of the patient.

A lot of doctors, cancer nurses, and researchers are, in fact, interested in the idea that positive emotions will improve the overall health and well-being.

How To Reduce Symptoms or Side Effects Using Alternative Medicine?

Certain complementary and alternative medicine or CAM therapies can help in controlling some symptoms of illnesses and treatment side effects.

One particular example is acupuncture – this type of therapy will help in relieving sickness caused by some chemotherapy medications. It will also help relieve a sore mouth after having head and neck cancer treatment.

Acupuncture will also help to relieve pain after surgery to remove lymph nodes in the neck.

Having the Feeling of Being More In Control

There are times or most of it where it feels as though a doctor makes many of the decisions about a patient’s treatment. It makes someone feel of not having much control over what happens to person as the patient.

A lot of people says CAM therapy lets them take more active role in their treatment and recovery, in collaboration with the therapist or the CAM practitioner.

Natural and Healing Therapies

There are many patients who like the idea that CAM therapies are natural and non- toxic.

Also, some CAM therapies will help with specific symptoms or side effects. However, there is not enough knowledge or evidence about how these might interact with mainstream conventional treatments like cancer medications or chemotherapy.

Yet some types of complementary or alternative medicine or CAM therapies might make conventional treatment work less well. And some others might elevate side effects.

Having Comfort From Personal Touch, Talk, and Time

There are some individuals who might get a lot of comfort and satisfaction from personal touch, talk and time that a complementary therapist will provide.

CAM therapist will be playing a supportive role during the treatment and recovery program. Particularly, a skilled and caring aromatherapist will take the time to make a patient feel cared for. This will help improve your quality of life (QoL).

Having A Positive Outlook

Having a positive outlook is very important part in coping with diseases such as cancer for most people. Most people if not all, want and hope for a cure, even if the doctor suggests that this might be a real challenge.

So, there are some people who use complementary therapies as a way to feel positive and remains hopeful for a better future and fast recovery.

Boosting The Immune System

Many claims that some certain CAM therapies can boost a person’s immune system and help fight serious illness. More so, there is evidence that feeling good and reducing stress boosts one’s immune system.

Meanwhile, there are clinical trials looking at how certain complementary or CAM therapies affecting the person’s immune system.

Looking For A Cure Using CAM Therapies

Many people believe that utilizing specific alternative therapies instead of the conventional medication will help control or cure serious illnesses. Also, there are those people who promote alternative or CAM therapies in this manner.

Utilizing alternative or CAM therapy will become more significant to people with more serious and advance illnesses, especially, if their conventional treatment is no longer helping to control it. It is totally comprehensible that these people hope that the alternative or CAM therapies might work and help them with their fast recovery.

However, there is not enough to no scientific evidence to validate that any type of alternative or CAM therapy that can help to control or cure serious or severe illnesses. Yet, some alternative therapies might be even unsafe and can cause more harm than good.


What is the difference between complementary and alternative medicine?

Complementary and Alternative Medicine are both treatments, that are often grouped together and called CAM therapies. Complementary medicine is the kind of treatment when these are being utilized alongside mainstream traditional medication. Alternative medicine, on the other hand, is when the approaches are without or instead of the mainstream traditional medication that we know.

There are a lot of people who think that “complementary medicine” and “alternative medicine” to mean the same treatment. However, these two are totally different.

Some examples of alternative medicine include yoga, chiropractic medicine, meditation, and massage therapy.

Although few people use alternative medicine, and experts recommend against utilizing the treatment. However, there are more traditional doctors who are accepting complementary medicine as an option.

Most cases, the two health practices actually overlap each other. For example, a lot of traditional medical doctors also practice acupuncture. And there are major medical centers that offer complementary approaches for treatment.

Who Can Benefit from CAM?

Anybody can benefit from CAM or Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It can be applied to either the sick or the healthy person. Each individual will respond differently to each product or therapy. It’s also imperative to be aware that some complementary treatments have been studied more than others available.

Research shows that acupuncture can be helpful in treating chronic pain, including that of the lower back and neck. Acupuncture has also been proven effective in treating pain from arthritis and different types of headaches.

Yoga can help with pain treatment, too. It can also minimize depression and anxiety, as well as blood pressure and heart rate management.

Furthermore, there are some complementary therapies like acupuncture that can help with fatigue, nausea, and other side effects mainstream treatment.

Are There Risks Using CAM Therapies?

Yes there are certain risks. There are always risk in any treatment not just with CAM therapies, but with mainstream traditional treatment as well. However, alternative medicine can be dangerous if it’s used in place of traditional treatments especially if there is no health professional guidance or prescription. It can even lead to a life-threatening situation.

On the other hand, there are many forms of complementary medicine such as meditation where it doesn’t have many side effects and can be utilized safely.

There are some herbs, supplements, and vitamins that have adverse side effects. The substances are not regulated by the government in the same way that medicines are.

Yet many a people claim that these are “natural”, but this does not always and necessarily mean that it is safe to use.

The following are some specific dangers linked with natural products and treatment:

Chiropractic Treatment – There are cases, although rare, where this CAM therapy has been used on the spine, it has ended in a stroke. There are common side effects, however, like headaches, are mild and will not last long.

Dietary Supplements – These products can interfere with different cancer treatments. Some of which might cause skin to become sensitive if being taken while getting radiation therapy. It is for this reason why oncologists usually tell patients to avoid taking any dietary supplements when undergoing treatment.

Herbal Products – These are products used in Chinese and Ayurvedic treatment. However, some of these herbal products may contain heavy metals, such as lead or arsenic which are harmful to one’s health.

Kava Kava – There are some people who utilize this herb to ease anxiety. However,  the usage of such herb may cause liver damage.

St. John’s Wort – This herb is commonly used to treat depression. However, it can reduce the efficacy of some medications. Some of these medications that are negatively impacted are certain cancer medicines, anti-retrovirals, and immunosuppressants.

Vitamin C – If taken in high dosage could affect how well chemotherapy and radiation work in cancer treatment.

What Is The Best Alternative Medicine?

Acupuncture is considered the best alternative medicine or CAM therapy. This healing technique originated in China and has been in practice for centuries. Acupuncture practitioners believe that diseases and ailments are caused because of the imbalances of universal energies or chi.

Why Is Alternative Medicine Bad?

Alternative and complementary therapy can pose dangers if not properly administered or without proper guidance from an alternative medicine practitioner.

There are some known concerns on using alternative medicine making it bad: delayed surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or other traditional treatment by using an alternative therapy, can allow certain cancer to grow and metastasize or spread to other parts of the body.

Is Meditation An Alternative Medicine?

Yes, meditation is considered a type of mind-body CAM or complementary and alternative medicine therapy. Meditation can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind. When meditating, a person focuses on attention and eliminate the stream of muddled thoughts that may be crowding the mind and creating stress.

Can Doctors Recommend Alternative Medicine?

Most doctors do not recommend alternative medicine due to the fact that alternative medicines remain scientifically unproven. Although these doctors don’t say that there are everyday medical practices and treatments that are also still scientifically unproven, but it doesn’t stop them from prescribing. It will depend on the doctor to recommend or refer a patient to a complementary and alternative medicine or CAM practitioner on top of the mainstream conventional treatment.

What Is The Difference Between Traditional and Alternative Medicine?

Traditional Medicine is the total knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences, aboriginal to different cultures that are utilized to maintain and promote health and well-being, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat diseases or illnesses. While, Alternative Medicine is a non-mainstream medical practice that is used in place of conventional medicine or treatment.

What Is The Purpose of Alternative Medicine?

Alternative medicine is a non-mainstream practice which aims to achieve the healing effects of medicine. Furthermore, it aims to address not only root of the problem but it also helps the overall well-being of the person. However, alternative medicine remains scientifically unproven, which makes some people think about the efficacy of utilizing this treatment.

What Is The Most Commonly Used Form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

Meditation is the therapy that is most commonly used among all the CAM therapies available, which is under the manipulative and body-based practices,. Manipulative and body-based practices include methods that are based on manipulation and/or the movement of the body. Some examples of the manipulative and body-based practices are meditation, biofeedback, and reflexology.

Is Yoga An Alternative Medicine?

Yes, Yoga is an alternative medicine which is a healing system of theory and practice. Yoga, which originated from Northern India, is a combination of breathing exercises, physical postures, and meditation, practiced for over 5,000 years.

How Important Is Alternative Medicine in Today’s Society?

Alternative medicine concentrates on the healing process of the body by balancing out the other aspects of life. Poor sleeping habits, poor nutrition, and stress affect the overall health, so by adapting complementary and alternative medicine program – these can help a person in addressing the root of the problem and help improve the overall well-being as well as quality of life (QoL).

Alternative medicine is important in today’s society because it gives patients choices or options. Alternative medicine allows patients to make health-conscious choices such as making lifestyle changes, understanding medical alternatives to care, and become an active participant in the medical treatment program through CAM therapies. When the patient is given the power to choose, it allows them to take control to make those changes and the power of positive changes in life serves a solid foundation in the healing process.

Another reason why alternative medicine is important in today’s society because it doesn’t have to be utilized exclusively. There are many approaches available and considered alternative medicine but now are being used together, instead of replacing, with mainstream treatment.

Furthermore, patients are looking for more ways to support their health, and are seeking less invasive, non-drug, economical approaches to strengthen their overall well-being. Alternative medicine provides many options, and visiting alternative medicine practitioners include treatments that immediately improve the state of well-being, while providing long range benefits as well.

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