Alternative Medicine - Terms


The term 'alternative medicine' is generally used to describe practices used independently or in place of conventional medicine. The term 'complementary medicine' is primarily used to describe practices employed in conjunction with or to complement conventional medical treatments. NCCAM cites the use of acupuncture in addition to usual care in order to help lessen pain as an example of complementary medicine. The terms 'integrative' or 'integrated medicine' indicate a combination of alternative medical treatments with conventional treatments that have some scientific proof of efficacy. Alternative medicine often relies on using loose language to give the appearance of effectiveness and to suggest that a dichotomy exists. One example of this is the use of "Western medicine" and "Eastern medicine" to suggest that the difference is not between evidence based medicine and treatments which don't work, whether from east or west.

Whole medical systems see "spiritual wholeness" as the root of physiological and physical well-being. Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, Homeopathy and Naturopathy are cited as examples The term appears to have entered into usage through the National Institute of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which began to employ it as a substitute for alternative medical systems as a way of differentiating widely comprehensive systems of medicine, such as Ayurvedic medicine, from specialized alternative approaches.

Ralph Snyderman and Andrew Weil state that "integrative medicine is not synonymous with complementary and alternative medicine. It has a far larger meaning and mission in that it calls for restoration of the focus of medicine on health and healing and emphasizes the centrality of the patient-physician relationship."

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