There has been a growing interest lately in a wide variety of alternative medicines. Allopathic doctors are beginning to incorporate alternative treatments more and more, combining alternative and traditional medicine into complementary medicine. Among the alternative treatments employed are a huge range of traditions, not easily summarized. Some, but not all, rely on natural remedies. Alternative medicine is an umbrella term referring to any type of healing practice or treatment outside the realm of the traditional Western medicine practiced by conventional doctors. Because it refers to so many different approaches, it is hard to define what it is, beyond being any treatment other than allopathic Western medicine. However, the varieties of alternative medicine can be divided into several broad categories which are more easily defined.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has classified the varieties of alternative and complementary medicine into five broad categories. Mind-body medicine refers to any type of approach that focuses on the mind’s effect on physical health. There are a number of alternative approaches that fall under this category, including hypnosis, biofeedback, and meditation. Biologically based practices are another category created by the NCCAM; it refers to any approach that relies on substances found in nature as a prevention or remedy. This includes herbal remedies, vitamins and supplements, medical uses of marijuana, and many other types of treatments.
Another category of alternative medicine is manipulative and body-based practices. This refers to any approach that relies upon adjustments or manipulations of the body to address a wide range of symptoms. Included in this category are chiropractic and osteopathic medicine, as well as massage; generally, these types of approaches are accepted, at least to a point, by most allopathic doctors. Less understood by traditional doctors is the category of energy medicine. These treatments believe that illness is caused by disruptions to the body’s energy field and seek to heal by remedying the body’s energy. Energy medicine includes such treatments as acupuncture, reiki, and healing touch.
The broadest category of alternative medicine is those labeled whole medical systems. These refer to any type of medicine that has been developed separately from conventional western medicine. It includes such approaches as traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, and Ayurvedic medicine.