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What is Alternative Medicine?

Dec 25, 2007
Before looking at the area of Alternative Medicine it is important to define and be clear about exactly what we mean.

'Alternative' can be described as a form of practice that is outside the establishment or realm of the convention either different from or able to serve as a substitute for something else.

So on the context of medicine, alternative medicine is a broad range of health care practices that are either preventive or therapeutic. These practices are not what is broadly considered within the 'mainstream' of medical treatments or methods and some of the treatments may not be underpinned by hard and fast scientific research by way of endorsing their effectiveness.

It is important to note that the term alternative medicine is often used alongside or in conjunction with the term 'complementary medicine' using the umbrella name of 'Complementary & Alternative Medicine' (CAM). A complementary medicine can be defined as a mainstream or conventional therapy which is used in addition to or alongside a conventional therapy as prescribed by a GP.

So what are the CAM's?
Generally the treatment systems & practices which are included under the umbrella term Complementary & Alternative Medicine are

* Acupuncture
* Acupuncture
* Aromatherapy
* Ayurvedic Systems
* Chiropractic
* Herbal medicine
* Homoeopathy
* Hypnotherapy
* Magnet therapy
* Massage Therapy
* naturopathy
* Osteopathy
* Reiki
* Reflexology
* Yoga

How popular are CAM's
It is estimated that in the UK alone the alternative therapy market accounts for 1.6 pounds billion and is growing year on year. This ground swell of popularity for CAMs is not limited purely to the UK. It is thought that in Europe over 50% of people have tried a CAM. In Australia a 1/3 of the population have visited an alternative medicine practitioner. In fact globally approximately 75% use alternative medicine & The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that 65%
of the world's population (around 3 billion people) use CAM as their main form of health care.

However it is not just the general public who are being switched on to CAMSs, in the UK there five homeopathic hospitals run by the NHS. An example of a CAM being used in a hospital is in Nottingham where aromatherapy is offered to assist women with pain during labour.

It is important to note that the massive interest in CAMs in recent years isn't seeing members of the public abandoning the mainstream for an alternative, rather seeking an alternative to complement their existing treatment and combine the two hence the term 'complementary medicine.'

Conclusion
CAM is fast becoming more 'mainstream' as the general public look for alternatives and the medical establishment give it more attention. Today the new buzz word is 'integrated medicine' (or Integrative medicine). IM simply employs treatments from both mainstream or conventional medicine in conjunction with CAM's which have high quality evidence of safety & crucially effectiveness.

Regardless of the leaps and bounds that CAMs have made in recent years in becoming embraced a wider 'population' it is important to recognise that it still has a long way to go. The way forward is to drive through trials & reports delivering hard evidence and facts about CAMs. The lack of hard evidence in certain areas combined with conflicting and contradicting reports in the media only serve to confuse. As research continues and we learn more we will be able to make informed decisions as to which way to turn.
About the Author
Shaun Parker has tried a wide variety of different alternative medicine therapies and shares his experiences to help those looking for therapy.
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