Alternative Medicine

Guide to Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine is a field that is made up of an array of diverse methods and approaches to wellness, healing, disease prevention and treatment not typically recognized by conventional Western medicine. Naturopathy, homeopathy, holistic (wholistic) medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, aromatherapy, Chinese medicine, yoga, massage therapy, chiropractic care, kinesiology, naprapathy, osteopathy, Reiki, Unani Medicine are all forms of alternative medicine. The prevailing belief behind many of these forms of medicine is that the human body is fully capable of healing itself or healing through natural means, such as with the aid of herbal medicine.

These forms of medicine are frequently used in conjunction with conventional medicine, referred to as integrative medicine, complementary medicine or complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Alternative medicine treatments used simultaneously with conventional medicine has in some cases proven very beneficial for patients. For instance, acupuncture is helpful in alleviating chronic pain and also reducing nausea for cancer patients. While conventional medicine typically treats a specific symptom, a collection of symptoms in relations to a disease or illness, alternative medicine evaluates and treats the whole person. Treatment for cancer, chronic pain or other maladies may include manual manipulations of the muscle or bone, stress relief through meditation or breathing, and talk therapy.


In some cases alternative medicine treatments are covered by insurance, such as chiropractic care, acupuncture and massage therapy. Other types of treatment may be covered depending on the insurance carrier and type of plan, but those three are the most typical. Most treatments are not covered and are not recognized by conventional medicine because they are costly or lack support from scientific sources. A person seeking alternative medicine treatments should certainly evaluate the claims made by professionals providing care.


The current governing body of natural and complementary treatments is the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which includes information such as Herbs at a Glance, Selecting a Complementary or Alternative Medicine Practitioner, and Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use and Children.

Herbal Remedies and Supplements

Alternative herbal remedies and dietary supplements are not evaluated by the FDA for efficacy, nor are they necessarily registered or approved. Some herbal remedies have been proven to be potentially harmful, such as Kombucha Tea and Ephedra (Ma-Huang) for weight loss. Herbal remedies should not be considered safe simply because they are marketed as “natural.” Consumers need to determine prior to the use of any herbal supplement if it will interfere with currently prescribed medication and discuss use of remedies and dietary supplements with a professional. For instance, some herbal medicines, such as Ginko, Ephedra and Goldenseal may interfere with drugs prescribed for cardiovascular disease. The use of herbal remedies for concomitant health issues may hamper treatment or can cause adverse reactions.

Disciplines of Natural Medicine

Natural medicine is not one specific type of practice, but any practice in which the aim of treatment or therapy is to induce healing, promote wellness and avert disease or disorder through natural means. An exhaustive list of all practices and disciplines will give you a good idea of the vast number of approaches to healing and wellness. This guide is meant to provide an informational overview of natural medicine, but does not promote or encourage any specific type.


Homeopathy was founded by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann in the 1800s. Homeopathy is the practice of using medicines found in nature to aid or stimulate the body’s innate ability to heal.


Ayurveda is an ancient form of holistic medicine initially practiced in India. It is notably useful in alleviating stress, which may be extremely helpful for patients recovering from illness, surgery, and struggling with chronic pain.


Current naturopathic practice is based on medical practices used during the 1800s, but modern treatment is also used. Naturopathy promotes the body’s ability to heal itself through the use of natural remedies.

Holistic Medicine

Holistic (wholistic) medicine operates on the premise that every person is a whole being, and as such, treatment is physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Holistic medicine includes acupuncture, herbalism, Reiki, homeopathy and more.


Chiropractic care primarily involves manipulation of the spine to restore alignment. It is used for a variety of reasons, including chronic back or neck pain and ailments such as headaches that may be caused by misalignment. Patients are commonly referred to chiropractors after car accidents to correct alignment issues that are the result of minor or traumatic physical injury.


The practice of Yoga is of Indian descent, and consists of many different methods, including Ananda Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Kripalu Yoga, Viniyoga and Vinyasa Yoga and more. The poses (asanas) of Yoga poses tone muscles, massage internal organs, and connects the mind and body through breathing. The practice is useful to alleviate anxiety and stress.


Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine used for centuries. Very fine needles are inserted into different pressure points in the body, to stimulate the qi or chi (chee), the energy flow within the body. Acupuncture is used to treat chronic pain, headaches, and alleviate stress. Studies have shown that it is a very effective practice and is a recommended complementary treatment for fibromyalgia patients and cancer patients.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is a form of treatment that has been used worldwide for centuries. It is used to promote relaxation, relieve stress, and aid the recovery of muscles following injuries. Deep tissue or vigorous massage may not be advisable for patients with cancer or bleeding disorders.

Alternative Cancer Treatments

Cancer treatments used by conventional medicine are generally very effective, provided the cancer is not too advanced. However, it is commonly known that some of the side effects of treatment are extremely difficult to endure. Alternative medicine is sometimes used in conjunction with conventional treatments to alleviate some of the discomfort, such as nausea, that may be experienced by cancer patients. Some alternative therapies are used by patients to treat the cancer altogether.

Gerson Therapy

Gerson Therapy was created by Dr. Max Gerson. His daughter later founded the Gerson Institute. The method uses a vegetarian diet, organic juices, natural supplements, and coffee enemas to rejuvenate the body’s defenses, flush out toxins to promote the body’s ability to heal itself.

Annie Appleseed Project

The Annie Appleseed Project promotes the use of Alternative and Complementary Therapy in fighting breast cancer.

Kidney Stones, Alternative Treatment

Kidney function is vital to a healthy body. Metabolic disorders and genetic diseases can cause faulty kidney function,  but poor diet can also cause kidney stones to form. If kidney stones have been diagnosed, alternative treatments include dietary changes, herbal supplements and drinking lemonade.

Supplements, Herbal Remedies and Diet

Herbal and dietary supplements are commonly used in conjunction with alternative medicine treatments and therapies. Probiotics are used to replace the healthy flora in the intestinal tract that is often killed off by antibiotics. Enzyme supplements are added to the diet to assist with digestive issues that may be caused by a lack of naturally occurring enzymes. The macrobiotic diet eschews processed foods, sugars, caffeine and alcohol, for instance and prescribes a specific vegetarian meal plan that is designed to restore balance within the body.


Probiotic supplements replenish the healthy and “good” bacteria in the digestive tract that is killed by prescribed doses of antibiotics. A lack of this healthy bacteria is believed to result in digestive disorders, causing a litany of different infections including fungal infections, skin infections, and periodontal disease. It is important to check with a physician before giving doses to children, the elderly or individuals with diminished immune function.

Enzyme Therapy

Enzymes break down proteins, fats, carbohydrates that are consumed. Enzymes also break down toxins and cleanse the blood. Typically naturally occurring within the body, enzyme deficiencies may require supplementation. Specific therapy methods should be advised by a health professional. Some types of enzymes may interfere with medications.

Kombucha Tea

Kombucha Tea is made from the Kombucha mushroom and fermented black sweet tea. It is recommended to promote wellness, anti-aging and to support the immune system. No scientific study supports these claims, but serious side effects including death have been reported.


The diet developed by George Ohsawa is a simple diet based on the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang. It is primarily vegetarian, including small amounts of fish and a base of brown rice, vegetables and water. Following the diet may cause protein, B-12, calcium, magnesium and iron deficiencies. It is important to seek nutrition advice from a health professional.

Herbs and Herbal Remedies

Herbalists use herbs to promote wellness and treat illness and disease. Rather than using strong manufactured chemicals to treat the body, treatments are procured from naturally grown plant species that have been used for thousands of years. Claims made by companies selling herbal remedies are not evaluated by the FDA for efficacy.

Urine Therapy

The basis of drinking urine as therapy is that important enzymes are excreted and the urea is purifying to the body. It is credited as useful in treating an array of diseases.