What Exactly is Alternative Medicine?

October 22nd, 2014 by Loretta Lanphier

What Exactly is Alternative Medicine?

Alternative medicine consists of a rich collection of techniques and therapies that can fall under several headings such as alternative therapy, complimentary therapy, functional medicine and traditional naturopathic (holistic) therapy. The divisions between the headings below are not always clear-cut and many practitioners use parts from each.

While each of the subject headings below serve as descriptions about what some may view as questionable medicine, all of these alternative medicine therapies and techniques continue to provide viable healthcare solutions to those who have not found adequate answers using conventional medicine or wish to employ healthcare that does not use toxic therapies.

Alternative Medicine

David M. Eisenberg, M.D. of Harvard Medical School states the following: alternative medicines are “medical interventions not taught widely at U.S. medical schools or generally available at U.S. hospitals. However, some of this is changing in medical schools and hospitals although what they offer might be very weak versions of an alternative therapy. The term alternative medicine can also be considered a code word for a series of significant challenges occurring within the American health care system today including the following:

  • The realization that conventional medicine such as antibiotics, prescription drugs, invasive surgery and chemotherapy cannot and does not solve all of America’s health concerns. (orthodox medicine based on Pasteur’s Germ Theory).
  • The growing acceptance and realization that the definition of health is not simply the “absence of disease” but instead involves body, mind and spirit.
  • The growing body of research, as well as public opinion, that states that alternative medicine is often more effective, economical, less invasive and less harmful than conventional medicine.
  • The growing number of consumers who take the time to research their health concerns and are thus open to trying alternative protocols as well as preferring to be treated by their health care practitioners as a whole person, not as a diagnosis and/or one organ.

Natural Health

Often you may come across the term “natural health” or “natural health medicine”. What exactly does “natural health” mean and why has it become so popular? Natural health is a complete lifestyle approach to overall wellness. Natural health is unique in that it approaches every component of one’s lifestyle such as how and what you eat, how you take care of your body, how you deal with stress and emotions and which healthcare practitioners you trust with your health care. Because natural health looks at body, mind, spirit and lifestyle, many consider natural health as holistic. Some people decide to turn to natural health as a last resort after trying drugs or surgery which has either not worked or resulted in intolerable side-effects. The main reason natural health has become so popular is because of the growing disillusionment with drugs and conventional medicine. Another reason for the popularity of natural health is a desire for medicines that come from nature and do not contain toxic, synthesized and hormone disrupting chemicals. Those who prefer to follow a natural health approach believe that getting to the root cause of symptoms enables them to resolve health issues, restore balance and harmony to the body as well as optimize health and well-being. By eliminating unhealthy habits, performing detoxifying cleanses, and making health-affirming choices you can help make a difference in enabling your body’s innate healing ability. The natural health approach can also empower you to become responsible for your own health and healing by incorporating preventative measures that use simple and often inexpensive natural means.

Complementary Therapy

Complementary therapy is usually implemented to “compliment” conventional medical treatment. It is the closest to what some believe is a ‘foot in both camps’ of conventional and alternative medicine. It may also help one to feel better about their choice of treatments since they are using “both sides of the coin” so-to-speak. It may provide a non-toxic manner in which to address certain symptoms or side-effects of conventional medicine treatment. Examples would be aromatherapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, Yoga, herbal medicines, conventional naturopathy, chiropractic, osteopathy, etc. According to current research, about a third of Americans seek help for their health concerns outside of their doctor’s office. Almost 20 million adults and 1.9 million children went to a chiropractor or an osteopath. Most Americans who use these natural health approaches do so as a complement to conventional care.

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Alternative Therapy

Alternative therapy is generally a therapy used instead of conventional medical treatment and thus not considered orthodox by conventional medicine standards. These therapies are generally based on Bechamp’s ‘polymorphism and terrain theory’ which acknowledges and works with the body’s own built-in healing mechanisms. Most alternative therapies have not been through FDA clinical trials because they do not have the tremendous funding and backing of pharmaceutical companies. Thus there is usually limited scientific evidence that they work even though for many of these therapies there is plenty of good anecdotal evidence of success. Just as with conventional medicine, some types of alternative therapies may not be considered completely safe for all people. Examples of alternative therapy would be Gerson Therapy, Laetrile, Budwig Therapy, supplements, orthomolecular, energy medicine, enzyme therapy, homeopathy, herbs, alternative diets, metabolic therapy, etc.

Traditional Naturopathic Therapy

Traditional Naturopathic therapy – wholistic (according to classicalnaturopathy.org) “Naturopathy is a philosophy which encompasses a view of life, a model for living a full life. The word naturopathy is a Latin-Greek hybrid which is usually defined as ‘being close to or benefiting from nature.’” — Stewart Mitchell, Naturopathy: Understanding the Healing Power of Nature

A traditional, classical naturopath specializes in wellness, teaching clients how applying natural lifestyle approaches can act to facilitate the body’s own natural healing and health building potential. The traditional naturopath does not undertake to “diagnose” or “treat diseases,” but rather recognizes that the majority of sub-health conditions are cumulative lifestyle effects, and that the underlying cause of what we call “disease” (or, “dis-ease”) is improper diet, unhealthy habits, and environmental factors which cause biological imbalances leading to a weakening of the bodies’ natural defenses and subsequent breakdown in health. Traditional naturopathic practitioners educate and teach their clients how to become responsible for their own health and include instruction about how to get healthy and stay healthy without the use of toxic drugs, surgery and radiation. The practice of Traditional Naturopathy is not considered as the practice of medicine and is currently legal in all 50 states.

Traditional Naturopathic Therapy should not be confused with modern naturopathic medicine. Modern naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods (conventional and non-conventional) and substances (including prescription drugs and injection therapy [shots]) that encourage a person’s inherent self-healing process. The practice of modern naturopathic medicine includes modern and traditional, scientific, and empirical methods. Modern naturopathic doctors are much like MDs in training and education except they receive some wholistic medicine training, usually from a conventional medicine standpoint. The Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) was established in February 2001 to propel and foster the modern naturopathic medical profession by actively supporting the academic efforts of accredited and recognized schools of modern naturopathic medicine. Currently there are six colleges/universities in the United States that have set themselves up as “accepted” natuorpathic medicine colleges. The students graduating from these colleges are known as naturopathic doctors, are licensed by the state or jurisdiction and are held to most of the same standards as conventional medicine doctors. Currently, 19 states, the District of Columbia, and the United States territories of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands have licensing or registration laws for modern naturopathic doctors. In these states, naturopathic doctors are required to graduate from an accredited four-year residential naturopathic medical school and pass an extensive postdoctoral board examination (NPLEX) in order to receive a license. In simple words, these graduates are basically conventional MDs with a splash of wholistic education.

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Functional Medicine

Functional medicine practitioners employ an integrative approach but also use an approach that considers all the body systems to understand the root cause of diseases, similar to naturopathic doctors and naturopathic practitioners. It supports the normal healing mechanisms of the body, naturally, rather than attacking disease directly. Functional medicine goes a step beyond integrative medicine by looking for a specific cause for every health concern, especially issues like autoimmune diseases or diabetes, to find a solution tailored to each individual. A functional medicine provider may also run genetic or environmental tests, in addition to traditional tests of biological function.

People trained in several healthcare fields can receive a certificate in functional medicine or integrative medicine, including doctors (N.D., M.D., D.O., D.C.), nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, registered dieticians, and acupuncturists.

Natural Medicine – Closest to Nature

Today many in natural healthcare prefer to address alternative medicine simply as natural medicine – that which is closest to nature. The term “alternative medicine” seems to suggest something that is questionable, second-best or new. However, most complimentary, alternative and naturopathic medicine therapy comes from natural remedies that have a history (long before the rise of conventional/orthodox medicine) of success without toxic side effects or long-term health concerns. For example, acupuncture is an ancient technique which originated in China (as did traditional Chinese medicine and qui gong) as long ago as 2689 B.C. Yoga is one of the oldest known methods of health practiced in the world today; it was first systematically set down in writing by Patanjali in the second century, B.C. On the other hand, biofeedback and enzyme therapy are two alternative techniques which have gained prominence primarily in the twentieth century. It is interesting to note that Chiropractic medicine, Naturopathic medicine, and Osteopathic medicine all originated in the United States.

In trying to determine a written-in-stone definition of alternative medicine, we should keep in mind that the term “alternative medicine” can be very individual thus meaning different things to different people. Hence, in all practicality there is no simple definition for alternative medicine that will satisfy everyone.

alternative medicine

Research & References

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  5. Clarke TC, et al. “Trends in the Use of Complementary Health Approaches Among Adults: United States, 2002–2012. National Health Statistics Report.” 10 Feb 2015;79,1-15.
  6. Naturopathic Medicine is Growing in U.S. Medical Centers of Excellence.” Institute for Natural Medicine. 21 Feb. 2018.
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Loretta Lanphier is a Naturopathic Practitioner (Traditional), Certified Clinical Nutritionist, Holistic Health Practitioner and Certified Clinical Herbalist as well as the CEO / Founder of Oasis Advanced Wellness in The Woodlands TX. She has studied and performed extensive research in health science, natural hormone balancing, anti-aging techniques, nutrition, natural medicine, weight loss, herbal remedies, non-toxic cancer support and is actively involved in researching new natural health protocols and products.  A 14 year stage 3 colon cancer survivor, Loretta is able to relate to both-sides-of-the-health-coin as patient and practitioner when it comes to health and wellness. “My passion is counseling others about what it takes to keep the whole body healthy using natural and non-toxic methods.” Read Loretta’s health testimony Cancer: The Path to Healing. Loretta is Contributor and Editor of the worldwide E-newsletter Advanced Health & Wellness. Check out Oasis Advanced Wellness and our natural skin care site Oasis Serene Botanicals.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Oasis Advanced Wellness/OAWHealth does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Oasis Advanced Wellness/OAWHealth are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician of choice.

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