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Alternative Medicine: What is in a Name?

By Expert HERWriter
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Alternative medicine is medicine that is practiced instead of conventional medicine.

Finally I turned to the World Health Organization (WHO) for their definition of alternative medicine. The WHO uses the terms "complementary medicine" and "alternative medicine" interchangeably. Any of these terms refer to health care practices that are not part of the dominant health care system for that country.

After reviewing all definitions, I still don't have a concise definition of alternative medicine. You can see that there is a debate over how to define alternative medicine.

Generally speaking, I think the underlying consensus is that alternative medicine does not include conventional medicine. Whether alternative medicine includes traditional medicines that have scientific proof or not is, I guess, in the eyes of the beholder.

Live Vibrantly,

Dr. Dae

Dr. Dae is a Naturopathic Physician who practices in the Washington DC metro area treats the whole person using safe and effective combinations of traditional and natural methods to produce optimal health and well-being in the lives of her patients.


"Traditional Medicine: Definition ." World Health Organization. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2012.

"What Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine? [NCCAM CAM Basics]." National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine [NCCAM] - nccam.nih.gov Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam/

"alternative medicine - definition of alternative medicine by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia." Dictionary, Encyclopedia and Thesaurus - The Free Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/alternative+medicine.

Reviewed January 26, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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EmpowHER Guest

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April 4, 2012 - 12:17am
EmpowHER Guest

Allow me to give another way of looking at it - there is not 'alternative' medicine. There is medicine that works, and there is medicine that doesn't. Most of what is labeled as alternative has not been demonstrated scientifically, and most of it doesn't work. Note that I say most, not all - there could be some form of alternative medicine that has yet to be demonstrated through the scientific process to work but does have efficacy and may one day be accepted into mainstream medicine, but almost every claim of alternative medicine I've heard off has not done so and have not demonstrated efficacy beyond placebo.

Now, you have said you went to a naturopathic school and they had "scientific explanations" for it. My question to you is how do you know these explanations were actually scientific? A lot of claims are made using scientific sounding claims that are not actually scientific - buzz words like 'toxins', 'energy', or even 'quantum' are often used, but ill defined. For instance, if someone says the problem is due to toxins, quite often they won't actually be able to name those toxins. It's scary and impressive enough to get interest, but vague enough that no actual details are given.

So in regards to your own field, naturopathy, I looked up the definition - "Naturopathy, or Naturopathic Medicine, is a form of alternative medicine based on a belief in vitalism, which posits that a special energy called vital energy or vital force guides bodily processes such as metabolism, reproduction, growth, and adaptation." So let's go back to the claims your school made - how do you know they are actually scientific? What experiments have verified this "vital energy or force" and how to measure and detect it? Were the methods and results of these experiments submitted to respected peer-review journals? If so, did they pass the checks on the methods so that other scientists could repeat the experiments and verify the results for themselves? These are important questions to ask, because if you aren't sure you can't with certainty claim that those explanations are real science, especially in the face of organizations like the American Cancer Society saying "Available scientific evidence does not support claims that naturopathic medicine can cure cancer or any other disease, since virtually no studies on naturopathy as a whole have been published."

January 27, 2012 - 7:55am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.