Alternative medicine: Definition, examples, benefits, and risks – Medical News Today

Alternative medicine: Definition, examples, benefits, and risks – Medical News Today

The term “alternative medicine” encompasses a wide range of medical practices and systems from cultures around the world. In countries such as the United States, people use it to describe practices that are outside mainstream medicine.

The term “alternative medicine” is subjective. While doctors in one part of the world might regard a practice as mainstream, doctors elsewhere might view the same practice as alternative.

This article discusses what alternative medicine is, different types of alternative medicine, and whether it is better than conventional medicine.

The term “alternative medicine” describes any form of medicine or healing that does not fall into conventional medical practice.

In the U.S. it refers to forms of medicine that are not widely accepted or practiced by medical doctors, particularly those that do not have as much scientific evidence to support them as more mainstream methods.

Some types of alternative medicine have been around for hundreds and even thousands of years. Others are quite new. Sometimes, something that begins as an “alternative” treatment can become part of mainstream medicine due to strong evidence that it works and has no safety risks.

Is alternative medicine the same as complementary medicine?

Many people use terms such as alternative medicine, integrative medicine, and complementary medicine interchangeably. However, each term describes something different:

  • Alternative medicine: This describes medical systems or practices that act as a replacement for conventional medicine. An example of this would be a person using energy healing for a condition rather than mainstream treatments.
  • Complementary medicine: This describes nonconventional medical approaches as a complementary or positive addition to conventional treatment. For example, a person who experiences migraine may take conventional pain medications but also attend biofeedback sessions.
  • Integrative medicine: This describes an approach to medicine that combines conventional and less conventional methods in a coordinated, evidence-based way.
  • Holistic medicine: This refers to treatment that considers a person’s health as a whole, rather than focusing on one organ or bodily system. Some types of alternative, complementary, and integrative medicine are also holistic.

Some people group “complementary and alternative medicine” together under the acronym CAM. There are many types of CAM. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) group them into five broad categories.

Mind-body therapies focus on the relationship between the mind and body to help treat or manage a condition. Some examples include:


Meditation is an ancient practice that is prominent in religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Today, there are many forms of meditation people can try; some are religious in nature, and some not.

Many studies have verified that meditation has health benefits. It can lower blood pressure and stress levels. Research suggests it may also reduce the symptoms of:

Learn more about the types of meditation.


Biofeedback involves …….


Alternative medicines