Alternative medicine practices are used instead of standard medical treatments. Alternative medicine is distinct from complementary medicine which is meant to accompany, not to replace, standard medical practices. Alternative medical practices are generally not recognized by the medical community as standard or conventional medical approaches.
Alternative medicine includes dietary supplements, mega-dose vitamins, herbal preparations, special teas, massage therapy or magnet therapy.
Complementary and alternative medicine therapies fall into five major categories, or domains:
Alternative Medical Systems
Alternative medical systems are built upon complete systems of theory and practice. Often, these systems have evolved apart from and earlier than the conventional medical approach used in the United States. Examples of alternative medical systems that have developed in Western cultures include homeopathic medicine and naturopathic medicine. Examples of systems that have developed in non-Western cultures include traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.
Mind-body medicine uses a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. Some techniques that were considered CAM in the past have become mainstream (for example, patient support groups and cognitive-behavioral therapy). Other mind-body techniques are still considered CAM, including meditation, prayer, mental healing, and therapies that use creative outlets such as art, music, or dance.
Biologically Based Therapies
Biologically based therapies in CAM use substances found in nature, such as herbs, foods, and vitamins. Some examples include dietary supplements,3 herbal products, and the use of other so-called natural but as yet scientifically unproven therapies (for example, using shark cartilage to treat cancer).