Introduction to Alternative and Complementary Medicine


Both alternative and complementary medicine involve non-mainstream health practices which are not considered part of conventional or traditional Western medicine. Although the terms “alternative” and “complementary” are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings. If a non-mainstream practice is used along with conventional medicine, it is considered complementary. If a non-mainstream practice is used instead of conventional medicine, it is considered alternative.

Examples of alternative and complementary medicine include the following:

  • Traditional alternative medicine — Acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and naturopathy
  • Body therapy — Massage, chiropractic medicine, and yoga
  • Dietary therapy — Dietary supplements, herbal medicine, and nutrition
  • External energy therapy — Reiki, Qigong, and electromagnetic therapy
  • Mind-body connection — Meditation, biofeedback, and hypnosis

These therapies have been used worldwide for centuries. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, 38 percent of adults and 12 percent of children in the United States currently use some type of alternative or complementary medicine.

Though widely used, these practices are not subject to the same rigorous, clinical trials that are required in traditional Western medicine. In many cases, the conventional medical community does not know the safety or effectiveness of various alternative and complementary therapies. However, studies are regularly conducted to gather more information.

In order to minimize risks, individuals should always speak with a physician before beginning a new type of alternative or complementary medical treatment. Individuals should disclose all medications, supplements and therapies to their physician to ensure safe and effective treatment.