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Alternative Medicine


The word “alternative” can be explained as “other” or “different”, that is, alternative medicine is another, different approach to diagnosis and treatment of diseases, compared with traditional medicine. Traditional medicine is called classical or scientific approach, which is used in the healthcare practice. Classical medicine has its origin in the general laws of nature and is based on accurate, objective assessment of therapeutic and diagnostic methods. Its methods are logical, standard and based on the scientific knowledge in biology, biochemistry, physics, mathematics, etc. In classical medicine are used only those methods of diagnosis and treatment, which can be accurately substantiated, obtained by the laborious and clinical observations. (Yutsis 1996)

On the other hand, the alternative (or unconventional) medicine presents methods of diagnosis, prevention and treatment of human diseases, which for one reason or another did not gain general acceptance among physicians. The main reason for this is usually a lack of clear rules, a large part of subjectivity in the selection and application of these methods. It is difficulties in conducting objective tests of effectiveness of alternative methods of medicine prevent their widespread introduction into clinical practice. Nevertheless, alternative medicine has many supporters, and is widely used around the world. There are many arguments both for and against alternative methods of treatment, and world community has not yet found a mutual understanding and consensus on this issue.

In this paper it is necessary to consider arguments for alternative medicine, explain position why and when it may be good solution for sick patients.

Alternative medicine: explanation and arguments for

Let’s start with the fact that scientific medicine includes a system of knowledge on healing, based on data from scientific and technical progress and associated with the experiment, resulted in the empirical knowledge and philosophical ideas, concepts, hypotheses and theories. Scientific medicine is focused on establishing an accurate diagnosis in accordance with modern nomenclature of diseases, and identification of accurately outlined terms of remedial measures within the approved standards. This approach often makes it impossible to cure the disease, because it doesn’t allows individual approach to treatment because of a large flow of patients that is considered one of the main shortcomings of the traditional approach to treatment.

Then it is possible to say about the lack of a more or less complete theory, describing the relationship of body affliction with mental changes, psycho-emotional state. In a scientific medicine priority is given to the application with the purpose of treatment of foreign substances (pharmacological agents), which possess a wide range of side effects. That is, the side effects are considered the main drawback of traditional forms of treatment compared to alternative methods. If a person takes a lot of different drugs for the treatment of one organ, the side effects of these drugs can have a negative impact on other human organs, and can cause other disease. For example, when taking many drugs, suffers gastro-intestinal tract of man, and he may receive gastritis. And if a person uses an alternative method, he is guaranteed not to bring harm to his body. (Furnham 1988)

Alternative medicine has one global advantage: the disease is not seen as a disease of one organ, but from a systems perspective (for example, “Y-sin” in acupuncture). This is what the doctors of Western medicine have lost or forgotten, and what is the main advantage of alternative forms of treatment compared to traditional methods. (Cassileth 1998)

The most important part of alternative medicine is recognition of the crucial role in processes of vital activity of the quantum-wave mechanisms through which, on the one hand, goes a direct relationship of the body with the environment, and on the other hand, provide instant transfer of information between all cells and tissues. The alternative medicine is based on the use of additional resources and ways to mobilize own reserves and regulatory systems of the body, contributing to the maintenance of homeostasis of a practically healthy person, as well as improving the quality of life of patients who suffer from modern, unfortunately, often quite aggressive methods of medical treatment. (Furnham 1988)

Known alternative medical practices and their implementation are published by WHO and include homeopathy, anthroposophic medicine, applied kinesiology, reflexology, osteopathy, chiropractic, Rolfing breath, treatment with electronics, pyramid therapy, naturopathy, dianetics, aroma and flower therapy, biochemical, orthomolecular techniques, bio-energy, etc. (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine)

The First World Congress on Alternative Medicine was held in 1973, and there was made a list of the 135 existing methods of treatment and their number continues to grow steadily. The use of alternative medicine in different countries depends on many factors – historical, ethnic, cultural, economic and so on. For example, in developing countries in Africa it is used by more than 80% of the population. (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine)

On the other hand, in the United States, for example, alternative treatment methods are also in good demand: according to the American Medical Association, each year 43 million Americans spend $ 22 billion on alternative therapies, such as the services of experts in traditional Chinese, Indian, Tibetan, Native American medicine. Over the past ten years the number of patients of this area increased by 60%. The most popular methods of alternative medicine today are acupuncture and manipulative therapy (chiropractic). (Rosenfeld 2000)

The increased popularity of alternative medicine among the population has created a beneficial way for its teaching in educational institutions of the United States. Now more than half of the 125 American medical schools have introduced into the curricula special lectures and workshops on AM. Future doctors learn acupuncture, herbal therapies, the principles of meditation and relaxation, manual therapies and homeopathy, and so on. That is, modern doctors recognize and widely use many of the principles and approaches of alternative medicine. And according to the latest news, about 30% of the U.S. hospitals now offer alternative and complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and massage therapy, etc. (Clarks 2006; American Hospital Association, 2008).

Arguments against alternative approaches in medicine

First of all it is necessary to stress the fact that it is not right to have two kinds of medicine – conventional and unconventional, as there must be only medical practice, which pasted the appropriate tests. But medical practice which did not pass such tests in fact must not be used. Once a method of treatment has been carefully checked and proved, if it has proven safe and effective, it will be adopted no matter whether it was considered unconventional. Alternative therapies should be subject to strict test as well as traditional methods. (Kopelman 2004)

Given the fact that the modern market is full different non-traditional methods of treatment, it is better to stop the debate about what the tradition and what is not, and just focus on the safety and effectiveness: what works and what does not? In some cases – for example when it comes to the proper use of medicinal herbs – the idea seems quite reasonable. But if to focus only on safety and efficacy, it is possible to overlook the more important question: weather mentioned treatment methods do not contradict the fundamental laws of science. That is, the basic criteria of safety and efficacy are the most important. (Kopelman 2004)
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the conclusions and assumptions of alternative methods have no justification and proof of their miraculous protective and remedial action on the human body. It is fair to say that traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy and some other systems of healing are based only on the fact that they almost do no harm to the patient, and thus offer him the opportunity to recover without receiving additional injuries and negative consequences. In addition, these methods derive their strength from an unusually important healing resource of people: hope for recovery. AHA President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock stresses that complementary and alternative medicine just show good promises in supporting and stimulating healing, but not curing serious diseases. (American Hospital Association 2008)

Of course, weather to use or not methods of alternative medicine is the choice of each person. After all, when there are problems with health we can always seek help from doctors and specialists. But there are cases when patients do not turn for help in time, and try alternative therapies, which, unfortunately, not always show the expected result. Then the patient misses a crucial time to begin treatment of the disease, and prolongs the healing process. In this case, it is worth saying that a person must first seek help from professionals, and in parallel can consider also some alternative therapies.


Works cited:

Angell M, Kassirer J.P. “Alternative medicine — the risks of untested and unregulated remedies”. The New England Journal of Medicine, 339. 12 ( 1998): 839–41. Web.
Astin John A., Ariane M. “A Review of the Incorporation of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by Mainstream Physicians”. Arhcives of Internal Medicine, 158 (1998): 2303-2310. Web.
Cassileth B. R. The alternative medicine handbook: The complete reference guide to alternative and complementary therapies. New York – London: Norton & Co., 1998. Print.
Clark Amy S.“ Alternative Medicine Goes Mainstream”. CBS News. Web. 14 Apr 2011
Furnham A, Smith C. “Choosing alternative medicine: a comparison of the beliefs of patients visiting a general practitioner and a homoeopath”. Soc Sci Med., 26.7 (1988): 685-9. Web.
Kopelman Lorretta M. “The role of science in assessing conventional, complementary, and alternative medicines”. In Callahan D. The Role of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Accommodating Pluralism. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2004. pp. 36–53.
“Press Release : Latest Survey Shows More Hospitals Offering Complementary and Alternative Medicine Services”. American Hospital Association. 2008. Web. 14 Apr 2011
Rosenfeld A.”Where Do Americans Go for Healthcare?”. Cleveland, Ohio: Case Western Reserve Universit, 2000. Print.
Ullman D. ‘The Consumer’s Guide to Homeopathy”. Tarcher/Putnam, 1996. Print.
Yutsis P. Formula of health. New York: Adventure Publishing, 1996. Print.
“What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)?”.National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Web. 14 Apr 2011