The role of alternative medicine in modern society

Typically, alternative medicine differs from traditional medicine in that alternative medicine is older and what we might call unconventional or non-western medicine. Alternative medicine does not follow the traditional science and research that current medicines undergo. Alternative medicine can also be referred to as complementary or traditional medicine or the therapies that can be integrated into current medicine. The staff of the United States National Library of Medicine classified alternative medicine under the category of complementary therapies in their Medical Subjects Heading section. This was done in the year 2002. The definition given was that alternative medicine therapeutic practices were not considered an integral part of traditional allopathic medicine. Therapies like acupuncture, diets, physiotherapy like exercises or yoga, etc. are called alternative medicine. These therapies are called complementary when used along with conventional treatments. When done in place of conventional treatments, they are known as alternative treatments.

In April 1995, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland panel worked on Definition & Description, CAM Research Methodology Conference, Office of Alternative Medicine. The panel defined alternative medicine and complementary medicine as those medicinal agents that encompass all health systems and practices that differ from the dominant health system of a particular society or culture. Usually, therapies such as Ayurveda, herbal medicine, folk medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, naturopathy, dietary practices, chiropractic, music therapy, massage, pranic healing, etc. are classified as alternative or complementary medicine. People who do not find a cure, remedy or success in allopathic medicine generally try alternative medicine. Such people generally suffer from cancer, arthritis, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), chronic back pain, etc. Therapies that fall under alternative medicine no longer fall under that category once their effectiveness has been proven and they are considered safe and effective. They are then considered part of traditional medicine. An example is chiropractors. Twenty years ago, insurance wouldn’t pay them because they were considered “alternative and ineffective.” Today, thousands of people have been helped by chiropractors and are now recognized in the medical community. A similar movement is underway in the nutritional supplement and nutraceutical industries.

Over the years, more and more people have turned to alternative medicine because traditional medicine doesn’t work for them. The 2004 United States National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine survey found that approximately 36% of Americans used alternative medicine in 2002. If alternative medicine is used in conjunction with traditional allopathic medicine, an integrative physician is the best option for a person. Some traditional practitioners are adamantly against or simply do not believe in complementary medicine, although research continues to demonstrate the benefits of many compounds. Your doctor should be informed of other approaches you may be using and if he is not comfortable with them you can always choose another doctor. This would allow the doctor to foresee any complications or find a better time to use additional therapy. The concern in using alternative medicine stems from the fact that some alternative medicine practitioners do not hold an accredited medical degree and therefore do not hold a valid medical license. However, in recent times many educational institutions and universities have started offering courses in homeopathy, ayurveda, siddha, unani, acupuncture and naturopathy. The recent growth in this industry is evident in the many people who demand different, and in some cases better, care than what they receive in ‘modern medicine’. They no longer accept the fact that they have to suffer with pain or illness, because the modern pharmacy has no panacea for them.