Complementary Versus Alternative
Many Americans, nearly 40 percent, use health care approaches developed outside of mainstream Western, or conventional, medicine for specific conditions or overall well-being. When describing health approaches with non-mainstream roots, people often use the words “alternative” and “complementary” interchangeably, but the two terms refer to different concepts:
“Complementary” generally refers to using a non-mainstream approach together with conventional medicine.
“Alternative” refers to using a non-mainstream approach in place of conventional medicine.
True alternative medicine is not common. Most people use non-mainstream approaches along with conventional treatments. And the boundaries between complementary and conventional medicine overlap and change with time. For example, guided imagery and massage, both once considered complementary or alternative, are used regularly in some hospitals to help with pain management.
This array of non-mainstream health care approaches may also be considered part of integrative medicine or integrative health care.
For example, cancer treatment centers with integrative health care programs may offer services such as acupuncture and meditation to help manage symptoms and side effects for patients who are receiving conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.
There are various definitions for “integrative health care,” but several facts about this growing health trend are clear:
It’s happening now. Many individuals, health care providers, and health care systems are integrating various practices with origins outside of mainstream medicine into treatment and health promotion.
The integrative trend is growing among providers and health care systems. Driving factors include marketing of integrative care by health care providers to consumers who perceive benefits to health or well-being, and emerging evidence that some of the perceived benefits are real or meaningful.
The scientific evidence is limited. In many instances, a lack of reliable data makes it difficult for people to make informed decisions about using integrative health care.
Retrieved from: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam