Category: Methods and Terminology

Alternative Medicine: Naturopathy

Naturopathic medicine emphasizes prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances. This form of alternative medicine employs an array of pseudoscientific practices based on vitalism and folk medicine. Naturopathic practitioners often recommend that patients refrain from utilizing modern medical practices, which include medical testing, drugs, vaccinations, and surgery. Rather, naturopathic study and practice rely on unscientific beliefs. As a result, many in the medical field believe naturopathic medicine to be ineffective and possibly harmful.


On its own, naturopathy is not harmful. Methods include herbalism, homeopathy, acupuncture, applied kinesiology, color therapy, cranial osteopathy, hair analysis, psychotherapy, reflexology, and massage therapy. Nature cures are very common in this form of medicine; this includes exposure to the natural elements, such as sunshine, fresh air, or natural heat and cold, as well as nutritional advice like following vegetarian and whole food diets. Naturopathy preaches “mindfulness” through meditation, relaxation, and other methods of stress management. These methods, while potentially ineffective, are not dangerous.


However, the beliefs associated with naturopathy, such as antivaccination stances and advising against the use of Western medicine, can be incredibly harmful to patients. The advising of individuals to refrain from medical treatment and diagnosis has brought up several ethical questions within the medical community. There is concern that naturopathy as a field tends toward isolation from general scientific discourage; natural substances, known as nutraceuticals, show little promise in treating severe diseases—especially cancer. While recreational use of naturopathy is not harmful, adopting its hardline positions on Western medicine can cause significant harm.


Naturopaths represent a diverse group of practitioners: those with a government-issued license, those who practice outside of an official status, and those who are primarily another type of health professional who may also practice naturopathy. Licensed naturopaths must pass the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations, which is administered by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners.


Alternative Medicine: Acupuncture

Acupuncture is one of the most popular and in-vogue forms of alternative medicine. In this practice, thin needles are inserted through the skin into the body at various points. Acupuncture is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, though techniques vary depending on the country. In the United States, acupuncture is most often used for pain relief, but it is also applied to treat a wide range of other conditions. Acupuncture has little scientific support and is often only used in conjunction with other forms of treatment. While some research suggests the acupuncture can alleviate pain, the majority of research suggests that its effects are mainly due to the placebo effect.


Increasingly, acupuncture is being used for overall wellness and stress management. Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy—known as qi (chi)–believed to travel through pathways within the body. Inserting needles into specific points along these meridians is said to balance the flow of energy. However, many Western practitioners of acupuncture view these points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissue.


Acupuncture is used to relief discomfort associated with a variety of diseases and conditions. This can include anything from chemotherapy-induced nausea and labor pain to dental aches and menstrual cramps. Acupuncture is generally safe when performed by a trained practitioner using clean, single-use needles. When properly delivered, it has a low rate of mostly minor adverse effects, and most accidents and infections are associate with practitioner neglect. However, individuals may be at risk for complications if they have a bleeding disorder, have a pacemaker, or are pregnant.


In traditional acupuncture, the practitioner decides which points to treat by observing and questioning the patient. There are also several related practices, including acupressure, moxibustion, and cupping therapy, most of which are common in traditional Chinese medicine.



Alternative Medicine: Ayurveda

Ayurveda is a medicinal system with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent. Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems—it was developed more than 3,000 years ago. The system of medicine is based on the believe that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Ayurveda is preventative; the goal is to promote good health rather than fight disease. However, certain treatments may be geared toward specific health problems. In the United States, Ayurvedic medicine is considered to be a form of complementary and alternative medicine.


The main Ayurveda texts include accounts of the transmission of medical knowledge from the Gods to sages. This information was then passed to human physicians. Ayurveda therapies have varied and evolved over more than two millennia and are typically based on complex herbal compounds, minerals, and metal substances. Ancient texts also taught certain surgical techniques, such as rhinoplasty, kidney stone extraction, sutures, and the extraction of foreign objects.


Those who practice Ayurveda believe every person is made of five basic elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. These combine in the human body to form three life forces, called doshas, which control how the body works: Vata dosha, Pitta dosha, and Kapha dosha. Individuals inherit a unique mix of these three doshas, though one of often stronger than the others. Each controls a different body function. Vata dosha, the most powerful, controls basic body functions, such as cell division. It also controls the mind, breathing, blood flow, heart function, and intestinal processes. Those who have Vata doshas as a main energy are allegedly more likely to develop conditions like anxiety, asthma, heart disease, skin problems, and rheumatoid arthritis.


Pitta dosha is said to control digestion, metabolism, and certain hormones linked to appetite. If this is an individual’s main life force, they will be more likely to develop conditions like Crohn’s disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, and infections. Finally, Kapha dosha is said to control muscle growth, body strength, stability, weight, and the immune system.


While the benefits of Ayurveda have very limited scientific support, the system appears to promote generally healthy lifestyles. If adopting this system is what a person needs to develop healthier eating and living habits, it is an excellent option for preventative action.


Alternative Medicine: Knowing Your Terms

Alternative medicine is often loosely defined. It can be a set of products, a set of practices, or a set of theories believed to have the same healing effects of Western medicine. However, there are differing types of alternative healing practices. Before embarking on your own alternative medicine journey, read up on the necessary terminology to get set on the right path.


Complementary Medicine—Also known as integrative medicine, this is when alternative medicine is used in conjunction with functional medical treatment with the believe that it improves the practice.


Allopathic Medicine—This is commonly used by homeopaths. It was used to describe traditional European practice based on the four “humours”: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Allopathy refers to the use of pharmacologically active agents to treat or suppress symptoms of diseases or conditions.


CAM—Known professional as Complementary and Alternative Medicine, this practice often utilizes the terms “balance,” “whole,” and “holistic.” This is an umbrella term for alternative medicine.


Traditional Medicine—This refers to pre-scientific practices of certain cultures. It is used as both a healing tool and a as a strategy for understanding and acknowledging cultural heritage.


These definitions were generated by the writers of the Alternative Medicine Channel. Definitions vary from organization to organization. For further reading on the difficulties in defining these medicinal practices, we recommend sifting through the website of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.