Alternative medicine

Is alternative medicine effective?

1.0 Introduction

1.1 The definition of alternative medicine

The definition of alternative medicine is defined by the American Heritage® Science Dictionary (2002) as a variety of therapeutic or preventive health care practices, such as homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, and herbal medicine that do not follow generally accepted medical methods and may not have a scientific explanation for their effectiveness. It was proposed by Hutton (2003) that alternative medicine practices are used instead of standard medical treatments. Alternative medicine is different from complementary medicine which is meant to accompany, not to replace, standard medical practices. Alternative medicine practices are generally not recognized by the medical community as standard of conventional medical approaches. Based on a survey that I have done, (refer to Figure 1 below), 80% of the people surveyed knew what alternative medicine was. On the other hand, alternative medicine is well known and widely used in many countries.

1.2 History of Alternative Medicine

According to Pillai (n.d.) Alternative Medicine is one of the oldest forms of medication that has existed in the ancient world for thousands of years. The concepts of alternative medicines were mentioned in the ancient scriptures of India, China, Egypt and almost all ancient civilizations of the world. Even though the names of the various alternative medicines differed, historical evidences indicate that the procedure of making and mixing them was one and the same. The history of alternative medicine in the east predominates in Asian countries such as India and China for approximately 6000 years ago. In India, the alternative medicines were known as Vedic medicines or Ayurveda. Ayurveda has been practiced for many centuries and is still in practice. The aim of Ayurveda medicine is balancing the harmony of mind, soul and body.

Ayurveda is an alternative medicine made from herbs, certain vegetables, fruits and natural minerals. There are historical evidences that surgeries were also performed as part of ayurvedic treatment in olden days. Ayurveda prescribes alternative medicines for curing common cold, stroke and paralysis and certain mental diseases. In China, alternative medicine was practiced for centuries and its concept is based on Taoist philosophy. The practice of alternative medicine in China that also spread to Japan and Korea is known as Oriental branch of alternative medicine. “Jinfang” and “Wenbing” are the two schools that contributed to the practice of alternative medicine and therapies. Chinese treated the human mind and the body and not the disease. They believed a strong human body could never fall sick. The term “acupuncture” originated from China and is used to treat various orthopedic and neurological ailments. Even today, acupuncture is still very popular and widely used in many countries. The history of alternative medicine in the west is divided into European alternative medicinal practice and American therapy. Alternative medicine in the west has been practiced for almost 2000 years. Herbalism, hydrotherapy using water and naturopathy was practiced in Europe as a form of alternative medicine. Today, naturopathy has progressed in Europe and is a very popular form of therapy. Naturopathy involves good nutritional supplements, herbal medicine, ample sleep and rest. Homeopathy was introduced by a German doctor Samuel Hahnemann in the 19th century. This alternative medicine is effective in treating various ailments. (Pillai n.d.)

1.3 Types of alternative medicine

It was stated in Groups of alternative medicine (2002) that, there are more than a hundred types of alternative medicine. The five main types of alternative medicine are Alternative Medical System, Mind-Body Interventions, Biologically-Based Therapies, Manipulative and Body-Based Methods and Energy Therapies. The first category which is alternative medical system is built upon complete systems of theory and practice. Some examples of alternative medical systems that have developed include acupuncture, ayurveda, homeopathy, naturopathic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. The second category which is mind-body interventions uses a variety of techniques designed to improve the minds capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. Mind-body interventions include hypnotherapy, music therapy, meditation and yoga. The third category is biologically-based therapy which uses substances found in nature. Some examples include dietary supplements, and herbal products. The fourth category which is manipulative and body-based methods are based on manipulation and movement of one or more parts of the body. Some of the examples are acupressure, chiropractic, osteopathy and reflexology. The last category is energy therapies. Energy therapies can further be broken down into two sub categories which are biofield therapies and bioelectromagnetic-based therapies. Biofield therapies affect energy fields that purportedly surround and penetrate the human body. Some forms of energy therapy manipulate biofields by applying pressure and manipulating the body by placing the hands in, or through, these fields. Examples include qi gong, Reiki, and therapeutic touch. Bioelectromagnetic-based therapies involve the unconventional use of electromagnetic fields, such as pulsed fields, magnetic fields, or alternating-current or direct-current fields. (Groups of alternative medicine 2002)

2.0 Reasons why people are turning to alternative medicine

2.1 Unhappy with or distrustful of, modern medicine.

Jackson (2005) pointed out that people turn alternative medicine because of bad experiences they had with modern medicine. The bad experience lead people to distrust modern medicine and stay away from it. Some people are unhappy because they are tired of taking pills or other medications for every ailment. They feel that they are contaminating their bodies with chemicals that are found in modern medicine. (Jackson 2005)

2.2 Gives more personal control of situation.

Jackson (2005) described that people who are unwell and those who have chronic conditions usually like to decide what is best for them. Using alternative treatments gives them this independence to take charge of their health. However, they do not complete cut out on modern medicine as they still use alternative remedies together with modern medicine. (Jackson 2005)

2.3 Matches culture or belief system.

As mentioned by Jackson (2005), alternative treatments are appealing to those who hold new-age ideas and philosophies. Treatments are claimed to be holistic, and healing is the result of achieving spiritual harmony. However, the advertising industry has embraced these philosophies and coupled them with a distorted view of the natural world to create the illusion that everything that is 'natural' and 'in harmony with nature' is somehow better for us. This has resulted in a substantial subculture, or market sector, of people who believe in the spirit-mind-body concept. Therefore, words like holistic, natural, herbal, and organic appeal to them. (Jackson 2005)

3.0 Advantages of alternative medicine

3.1 Lower side effects

It was pointed out by Innocent (n.d.) that alternative medicine has low or no side effects because it works with the body not in suppressing symptoms, as modern medicine does. (Innocent n.d.)

3.2 Cost effective.

The price for modern medicines is very costly. However, alternative medicine is inexpensive. Innocent (n.d.) justified that alternative medicine is generally affordable by even the most financially compromised families. (Innocent n.d.) Herbal medicine is cost effective and less expensive than the medicines bought from an allopathic pharmacy. (Pillai n.d.)

3.3 Natural substances.

Innocent (n.d) stated that alternative medicines generally use natural substances processed in a simple manner. It does not require high tech manufacturing processes which use hazardous and polluting chemicals or carbon polluting energy. Substances or ingredients are readily available where people can even grow some of the medicine on their own, which means they can keep control of the whole process. (Innocent n.d.)

3.4 Approach to whole body healing and treatment

The approach of alternative medicine to whole body healing and treatment of the underlying causes of diseases and conditions looks at the entire person as opposed to just symptoms. This approach can improve an individual's overall health and quality of life. (Advantages of Alternative Medicine 2008)

4.0 Disadvantages of alternative medicine

4.1 Requires patience

The downside about alternative medicine is it takes too much time for the process to work. The whole progression is slow. According to Pillai (n.d.), it takes time to cure ailments using herbal medicine and supplements. As such, one should possess immense patience when undergoing treatment. (Pillai n.d.)

4.2 Unable to treat serious or sudden illness or injury.

Grunert & Roberts (2008) suggested that alternative medicine would not be able to treat serious trauma, such as a broken leg, nor would he be able to heal appendicitis or a heart attack as effectively as a conventional doctor using modern diagnostic tests, surgery, and drugs. Modern medicine treats sudden illness and accidents much more effectively than herbal or alternative treatments. For sudden, serious illnesses or injury it is better to use modern medicine. (Grunert & Roberts 2008)

4.3 Improper usage may cause adverse effect on body.

Herbal remedies and medicine for certain ailments may have negative side effects. These side effects may not be revealed immediately, but would take months or even years before the effects are seen. (Pillai n.d.)

4.4 Risk of overdose

Grunert & Roberts (2008) highlighted that herbal medicine has the risk of doing oneself harm through self-dosing with herbs. Many herbs do not come with instructions or package inserts and this can cause a real risk of overdose. (Grunert & Roberts 2008)

5.0 Conclusion

Alternative medicine has it advantages and disadvantages. The effectiveness of the alternative medicine depends on the user. Some alternative medicine such as yoga and meditation can be very effective provided it is done correctly. It is important to get doctors advice before practicing any method of treatment. For those who wish to use alternative medicine and therapies, visiting a physician for the correct diagnosis, advice or consulting an herbalist for the proper herb and dosage and at the same time combining with modern medicine when it is practical may be a possible way. According to a personal survey, (refer to Figure 2 below), 77 % of people use alternative medicine as a form of treatment or remedy.

Based on another survey that I have done, (refer to Figure 3 below) 70 % people say that they use both complementary medicine and alternative medicine(CAM) when treating ailment while the other 30% do not use both complementary medicine and alternative medicine(CAM) when treating ailment. The survey displayed a result that the usage of complementary medicine and alternative medicine (CAM) is getting more popular.

In conclusion, alternative medicine is effective. According to another personal survey, (refer to Figure 4 below), 83 % of people surveyed say that alternative medicine is effective to them. However, while it is very different to prove scientifically the effectiveness of alternative medicine or therapies, so many people report good benefits about it. Scientific committees have come to acknowledge that these alternative medicine or therapies should have a place in orthodox treatment.



Singh S, Ernst, E 2008, Trick or Treatment? : Alternative Medicine on Trial, Bantam Books, United States.

Kayne, SB 2009, Complementary and alternative medicine, London : Pharmaceutical Press.

Attenborough A, ETAL, 1992, Family Guide to Alternative Medicine, Reader's Digest, New South Wales.

Journal Articles

Steyer TE, MD, n.d, Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Primer . Retrieved March 7, 2010 from


Dr Lum, M 2008, Regulating Traditional Medicine, July 13. Retrieved March 7, 2010 from

Edwards, A 2008, Practicing Integrative Medicine, July 27. Retrieved March 7, 2010 from integrative medicine


Innocent M, Seven Advantages of Alternative Medicine. Retrieved March 7, 2010 from

Jackson J, 2005, Why do people use alternative medicine? Retrieved April 1, 2010 from

Pillai M, n.d, Advantages and Disadvantages of Herbal Medicine. Retrieved April 1, 2010 from

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