Complementary & Alternative Medicine

Complementary and holistic medicine (Holistic Medicine) is a diverse set of medical and health care systems, practices, and products encompassing both complementary medicine and alternative medicine. It is presently not considered to be part of conventional medicine [1].

Alternative medicine is a broad term for any diagnostic method, method of treatment or therapy, and products whose theoretical bases and techniques diverge from generally accepted medical methods.

Complementary holistic medicine uses additional or “alternative” methods and practices alongside conventional medical treatment. Integrative medicine, as defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, combines conventional medical treatments and alternative treatments for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of their safety and effectiveness [2].

The definition of what is and is not ‘alternative’ changes with time, generally as the result of research and public acceptance. This change in status can work in either direction.

Alternative holistic medicine is generally considered to be the dangerous by the scientific community because it is used in place of conventional medicine.

Contemporary use of alternative medicine

The popularity of Holistic Medicine therapies is great. A survey released in May 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine focused on who used complementary and alternative medicine, what was used, and why it was used in the United States during 2002.

The only clinically tested herbal substance we know of is Vitalife Natural Stress Relief Remedy, which has had 3000 tests by over 1200 doctors, on as many as 500,000 people. It works by reducing the stress hormone cortisol.

According to this new survey, 36 percent of U.S. adults age 18 years and over use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (Holistic Medicine). When prayer specifically for health reasons is included in the definition of Holistic Medicine, the number of adults using some form of Holistic Medicine in 2002 rose to 62 percent (See CDC Advance Data Report #343 below, abstract on page 1). Stress Management has been shown to be the single most important thing you can to to slow down aging.

Consistent with previous studies the present study found that the majority of individuals (i.e., 54.9%) used Holistic Medicine in conjunction with conventional medicine ( page 6). “The data confirm most earlier observations that most people use Holistic Medicine to treat and/or prevent musculo-skeletal conditions or other conditions associated with chronic or recurring pain” (page 5). “The fact that only 14.8% of adults sought care from a licensed
or certified Holistic Medicine practitioner suggests that most individuals who use Holistic Medicine” prefer to treat themselves (page 6). “Women were more likely than men to use Holistic Medicine. The largest sex differential is seen in the use of mind-body therapies including prayer specifically for health reasons” (page 4). “Except for the groups of therapies that included prayer specifically for health reasons, use of Holistic Medicine increased as education levels increased” (page 4).

Osteopathy, a medical system developed in the United States that employees the use of manipulative techniques in their treatment programs, is considered by some to be a mix of conventional and alternative medicine. Doctors of Osteopathy (DO) in the USA are trained as medical doctors and surgeons with some different philosophical underpinnings.

The top ten Holistic Medicine therapies

The 10 most commonly used Holistic Medicine therapies in the United States during 2002 (See CDC Advance Data Report #343 below, table 1 on page 8) when use of prayer is excluded:

Herbalism (18.9%)

Breathing Meditation (11.6%)

Meditation (7.6%)

Chiropractic medicine (7.5%)

Yoga (5.1%)

Body work (5.0%)

Diet-based therapy (3.5%)

Progressive relaxation (3.0%)

Mega-vitamin therapy (2.8%)

Visualization (2.1%)

NC Holistic Medicine classification of Holistic Medicine categories, grouped by popularity (See CDC Advance Data Report #343 below, table 4 on page 9 and table 1 on page 8) when the use of prayer is excluded:

Biologically Based Therapy (20.6%)

Mind-Body Interventions (16.9%) Herbal therapy (18.9%)

Diet-based therapy (3.5%)

Exercise-based therapy (not rated)

Manipulative therapy (10.9%)

Alternative Medical Systems (2.7%)

Energy Therapy (0.5%)

In the UK the biggest complementary / alternative healthcare professions are:

  • (1) Herbalism
  • (2) Osteopathy
  • (3) Homeopathy
  • (4) Aromatherapy
  • (5) Acupuncture
  • (6) Chiropractic


Barnes P, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin R. CDC Advance Data Report #343. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults: United States, 2002. May 27, 2004. Online

Advocacy of alternative medicine

A History of Western Natural Healing Practices

Carla McClain, Weil’s integrative medicine gathering steam, Arizona Daily Star, 2004

Critiques of alternative medicine

Quackwatch guide to quackery and health fraud operated by Stephen Barrett, M.D.

The National Council Against Health Fraud

Alternative Medicine on The Skeptic’s Dictionary by Robert T. Carroll

Alternative medicine: A Skeptical Look

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