The Terms of Alternative Medicine

Definitions of Alternative Medicine: Complementary, Integrative, Holistic, Naturopathic, and Homeopathy

When researching alternative medicine, there are several different terms you might see or hear. Some of these terms, such as naturopathic treatment, holistic practitioner, or integrative medicine, might be unfamiliar. We’ll try to sort things out for you and give you an idea of the concepts that these terms refer to as well as their role in alternative medicine.

Complementary and alternative medicine

Also known as CAM. These terms are generally used together to define any type of alternative medicine or non-conventional method of treatment. Complementary medicine alone can include alternative practices that are used along with conventional medicine. For example, the use of electro-acupuncture in which electrical stimulation is added to acupuncture needles. Alternative medicine includes treatment methods used instead of conventional medicine, such as chiropractic medicine, nutritional supplementation, and diet-based therapy.

Complementary and alternative medicine is sometimes further subdivided into five groups: whole medical systems, mind-body medicine, biologically based practices, manipulative and body-based practices, and energy medicine.

  • Whole medical systems encompass multiple complementary and alternative medicine groups and include practices like homeopathy and traditional Chinese medicine
  • Mind-body medicine incorporates the mind, body, and spirit and includes meditation, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, etc.
  • Biologically based practice is the use of therapeutic substances found in nature such as herbs, dietary supplements, and even foods
  • Manipulative and body-based practices including chiropractic and osteopathic treatments like spinal manipulation and massage
  • Energy medicine deals with energy fields and electromagnetism

Integrative medicine

Integrative medicine is similar to complementary medicine in that it combines alternative and conventional therapies, but differs in that it involves only procedures that have been scientifically investigated and for which there is clinical evidence of their effectiveness. One of the major caveats of alternative medicine is that many of the treatment methods are not backed by scientific support; however, this often has more to do with a lack of quality clinical investigations than ineffective treatment protocols. In other words, there isn’t any scientific support because (a) no one has done the research or (b) the existing research is of poor quality. Integrative medicine also emphasizes prevention, lifestyle changes, and the patient-doctor relationship.

Holistic medicine

Holistic medicine treats the patient as a whole and not the sum of individual parts or systems.  It not only looks at the physical aspects of a person’s illness, but the nutritional, environmental, emotional, spiritual, social, and lifestyle issues as well. Holistic alternative medicine combines a holistic approach with alternative treatment methods. Mind-body medicine – meditation, progressive relaxation, etc. – is an example of holistic alternative medicine.

Naturopathic medicine

Also referred to as naturopathy or natural medicine, naturopathic medicine uses natural remedies and relies on the body’s innate ability to heal itself. Naturopathic treatments are a form of holistic alternative medicine and include such therapeutic approaches as diet and lifestyle changes, acupuncture, prolotherapy, and platelet-rich plasma therapy.

Homeopathic medicine

Homeopathy is a type of alternative medicine treatment founded on the idea that an illness can be treated with a very tiny dose of a drug or extract that causes the same symptoms as the illness itself.  According to homeopathic practitioners, by administering highly diluted amounts of the drug, the body’s immune system is stimulated to fight the illness.

Human Health Specialists are proficient in all types of complementary and alternative medicine from dietary supplements and diet-based treatments to acupuncture and spinal manipulation. We also often recommend conventional therapies like prescription medications and therapeutic ultrasounds. While we are typically considered a complementary or integrative medicine clinic, we don’t limit ourselves to one scope of treatment; rather, we use whatever therapies are necessary to get results for our patients. To get a better understanding of how Human Health Specialists can assist you, contact us for a consultation.


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