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Herbs have been used as remedies long before men kept any written records. There have been archaeological sites found in Iraq that date back 60,000 years with pollen from 8 types of plants of which 7 are used today in alternative medicine. It is not easy to define the concept of alternative medicine except to say that it constitutes a healing process which does not fall within the range of the modern medicine. Alternative medicine can also be integrative, or used in combination with the elements of the Western medicine. The methods employed by alternative medicine practitioners are wide in scope and include folk knowledge, traditional medicine, contemporary approaches to healing, and spiritual beliefs. While the modern day medicine focuses on finding the cause of uncomfortable symptoms, alternative medicine treats the person as a whole and emphasizes prevention, and self-healing. Similarly to its mainstream counterpart, alternative medicine propagates the importance of healthy nutrition in preventing many health problems.

Alternative and Evidence-Based Medicine

It should be noted that the efficacy of alternative medicine has shown as inconsistent. Not surprisingly, many scientists and mainstream health care providers have been criticizing the alternative approach. They ascertain that medical care practices should only be based on valid and reliable scientific research. Consequently, if a treatment has been consistently analyzed and proven to be effective mainstream medicine will employ it regardless of the fact that it may have been alternative to begin with. In addition, there are those who argue against alternative medicine insofar that they advocate the name be changed from alternative to experimental, genuine, and questionable medicine. Other scientists criticize alternative techniques claiming they are ineffective or sometimes even negative, but adhere to acupuncture and some herbs. There are even claims that the effects of alternative medicine are equal to the placebo effects.

An evolutionary biologist named Richard Dawkins claims there is no distinction between modern and alternative medicine, only medicine that does or does not work. Any type of treatment that has consistently shown to be effective ceases to be alternative, and becomes simply medicine. On the other hand, there has been evidence in the press pointing to a fact that many mainstream heath care practitioners are opting for incorporating acupuncture and herbal formulas into modern treatment. It also seems that there is a growing number of people who are opting for alternative medicine in the Western world. In the past 2 decades the percentage of individuals using such type of healing jumped from 34 to 42 percent.

Individuals who support the alternative approach claim that such methods are successful in treating both moderate and severe medical conditions. In addition, the alternative medicine has been particularly helpful with easing pain caused by various types of underlying conditions especially terminal illnesses. In any case, the primary health care providers should be consulted when deciding to take any kind of alternative therapy as there may be some which contradict with the mainstream therapy the patient might be undergoing or they could contain hidden ingredients which would cause harm.

Also, prescription drugs are dosed according to significant scientific data while the dosage of alternative medications can vary greatly from practitioner to practitioner on a case to case basis. Further, not all alternative therapy involves herbs and acupuncture. Some of the most widespread forms of such therapy include yoga, aromatherapy, counseling stress therapies, meditation, massage, reflexology, and shiatsu.

As far as education for alternative medicine in the US goes, there has been a steady increase in the number of medical colleges which provide courses in alternative or complementary medicine. Aside from the already mentioned methods, most courses include chiropractic, acupuncture, and homeopathy techniques. Over 60 percent of regular medical schools in the US teach some form of alternative medicine. One of the reasons why the alternative approach to medicine has been gaining in popularity is because there is a general feeling of mistrust when it comes to the combination of the mainstream medicine and the pharmaceutical companies. It is often the case that patients who are looking to ease some symptoms, such as pain, or try to find help for a chronic condition will usually turn to alternative medicine for answers once the modern one fails to provide them.

Interactions with Conventional Pharmaceuticals

There are a number of cases in which the alternative medicine in combination with the mainstream approach can be dangerous. If an individual is taking insulin therapy, oxygen or ozone therapy, immune-augmentation therapy, and so on, alternative methods for treatment should be avoided. Also, anesthetics, chemo and radiation therapy should definitely not be mixed with other types of treatments. Practitioners of the modern medicine caution against the placebo effect as well. There are many patients who go from one alternative kind of treatment to another for months at a time only to realize there are no real effects.

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