What is alternative medicine?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Dr. Weil visits Dr. Oz to discuss how optimal wellness can be achieved through alternative medicine. Learn about alternative therapies in this video.

William E. Brown III., MD
Internal Medicine
In Western culture, the term alternative medicine is any healing practice that does not fall within the realm of conventional medicine, or that which has not been shown consistently to be effective.  In some instances, it is based on historical or cultural traditions, rather than a scientific (e.g. evidence-based) basis.
I agree with Richard Dawkins who stated that "there is no alternative medicine, there is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't work."  For example there are many instances within the realm of so called conventional medicine where we are not exactly sure how a certain therapy works.  We only know THAT it works and works consistently and therefore it receives the support of the main stream medical establishment.  
Additionally, using this same stream of thought one could argue that there are therapies that have been considered alternative medicine in that past which should be allowed to make the transition to be considered conventional medicine on the basis of efficacy.
Alan Gaby
Nutrition & Dietetics
While there is no official definition of "alternative medicine," the term generally refers to various treatment modalities that are not used in conventional medicine. The fact that a treatment is not widely used does not necessarily mean it is ineffective. Some "alternative" treatments have been well researched and clearly shown to be beneficial, whereas other alternative treatments have not been adequately studied. The same is true of conventional therapies. It should be noted that "conventional medicine" is not the same as "traditional medicine." In some societies, modalities such as acupuncture and herbal medicine are traditional. Conversely, the emphasis on drugs and surgery is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Alternative medicine applies to all the medical approaches that are not traditional.  This would be accupuncture, herbal and other non-traditional types of medical treatments. For the most part, the support for alternative medicine is "anecdotal."  That is that a person took the treatment and got better.  Traditional medicine is mostly based on sound research.  That is, a number of patients given the treatment, consistently did better than no treatment.  Just because the alternative medicine has not gone through these rigorous studies, does not mean that it could not be a good treatment.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.