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Complementary Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Aug 2, 2021

Complementary Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine


We hear so many different terms these days involving healthcare. It’s challenging to keep up with all the various types of care available to us. What do they all mean, are they worth looking into or should we just stick to more conventional medicine?

Many different areas make up the practice of complementary and alternative medicine. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard medical care. Defining these two care paths might shed some light on the use of each:

Complementary medicine is used along with standard medical treatment but is not considered by itself to be standard treatment. One example is using acupuncture to help lessen some side effects of cancer treatment. Thus, the patient has chosen to receive standard medical care and utilize other forms of care to ‘complement’ the standard medical care.

Alternative medicine is used instead of standard medical treatment. One example is using a special diet to treat cancer instead of cancer drugs that might be prescribed by an oncologist. Alternative medicine is a misnomer, and we should correct the terminology right away. The correct term for alternative medicine is alternative care. The reason we do not use the term medicine when talking about alternative care is that alternative care does not involve the use of conventional medicine.

Much of the healthcare delivered today is termed integrative care – this is the combination or ‘integration’ of multiple types of care to improve the outcome of the patient. Integrative care typically looks at the patient as a whole entity and works to strengthen the whole person rather than treat the patient based on the disease identified within the patient.

For example, in standard medical care a patient with high blood pressure might be prescribed medicine to lower the blood pressure. Thus, the care would only address the disease, high blood pressure. If integrative care is utilized the patient might be introduced to nutrition, diet changes, exercise and lifestyle changes that can positively affect the high blood pressure.

Examples of healthcare that can be considered complementary, alternative, and when used together as integrative care are:

  • Acupuncture, homeopathy and naturopathy – each of these disciplines involve very well-trained professionals and have been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years to positively help people that are suffering.
  • Chiropractic, osteopathic care – Doctors of Chiropractic and Osteopathy have been trained to help the patient optimally function as a whole being, rather than treat the disease that is affecting the patient.
  • Massage, body movement and yoga – touch and movement disciplines have been utilized for centuries to improve health outcomes.
  • Diet and nutrition – nutritional excess and deficiency have become huge problems in our society today with both problems leading to chronic diseases as well as being a leading cause of death.

The integration of various types of healthcare is paramount for optimal well-being. Using any one of these approaches to the exclusion of other approaches will often lead to less-than-optimal outcomes. Whether care is called complementary, alternative or integrative – the best approach is to stay open-minded and find what works best for each of us. Be Blessed.

Category: Dr. Sterling