Alternative medicine is an expansive phrase describing many types of therapies that are unconventional with regards to traditional Western medicine. It gives emphasis to therapies that develop quality of life, avert disease, and tackle conditions that conservative medicine has minimal success in curing, such as chronic back pain and certain cancers. Advocates of this practice believe that these healing approaches are safer, effortless and have been shown through experience to work. In some countries, these practices are the most widely used methods of health care.
About 83 million United States residents use alternative medicine, spending more than $27 million a year. Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia indicate a widespread interest in alternative therapies. It is a lucrative profession that opens many doors for practitioners. These are the usual online courses in the six fields of alternative medicine offered by some establishments:
- Mind-body intervention. This explores the possibility of the mind’s capability to affect and heal the body of its afflictions. There are studies that show how the mental state affects the immune system, greatly increasing resistance to disease. Studies under this category involve lessons in meditation, hypnotherapy, art therapy, biofeedback and mental healing.
- Bioelectromagnetic applications. This type of treatment makes use of the body’s response to non-thermal, non-ionizing radiation. It aims to stimulate bone repair, nerve regeneration, and wound healing, as well as improve immune system function.
- Alternative systems of medical practice. Each system has a specific theory on health maintenance and disease eradication. There is usually a legal mandate to regulate their practice. Examples of these are acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy and naturopathy.
- Touch and manipulation. This is the usual mainstay of manual healing methods. Massage therapy and chiropractics believe that manipulating and realigning connective tissues restores health.
- Biological and pharmacological treatments. This uses a variety of drugs and vaccines not accepted in traditional medical practice. An example is using iscador, a liquid mistletoe extract used to treat tumors.
- Herbal medicines. This area of alternative medicine promotes using herbal medicines over synthetic medications to maintain health. In the USA, these are marketed as food supplements and offer no guarantee of safety or purity.
There is substantial cynicism among conventional practitioners and among biomedical researchers regarding alternative medicine’s value. Many of the declarations made by its practitioners have not been corroborated by scrupulously controlled scientific analysis. However, in recent years many scientists have begun to carry out such studies to assess alternative therapies. A division of the NIH, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM, originally the Office of Alternative Medicine), was established in 1992 to aid in impartial scientific assessment of alternative therapies. The NCCAM seeks to diminish obstacles that may keep potential alternative therapies from advancing to pervasive use. Physicians are also gaining more confidence in alternative therapies. By the late 1990s, some 75 U.S. medical schools had included alternative medicine courses into their curricula. It is possible that what was considered alternative in the past will become mainstream in years to come.