Alternative Medicine: Its Scope

The term alternative medicine is applied to any form of medicine that differs from the Conventional Western understanding of disease, and its management. It includes many types of therapies, like Aromatherapy, Acupuncture, Acupressure, Chiropractic & Osteopathy, Homeopathy, Hypnosis, Naturopathy, Herbal medicine, Nutritional Supplements, and Vitamins and minerals.


Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils, concentrated fragrant extracts of plants used to promote relaxation, and help to relieve symptoms of disease. It is believed that essential oils have both physical and etherial (spiritual) qualities and effects. This regulates the activity of the limbic system in the brain and governs emotions.


Acupuncture is an old (2500 BC) system of medicine based on the Chinese theory that a life force flows through the body along a network of meridians quite distinct from the nervous system. In disease the part of the body affected is believed to alter the flow of force at a particular point on the meridian. The acupuncturist corrects the energy imbalance by inserting very fine steralised needles into the skin at specific points along the meridian lines. The needles are then manipulated or rarely a weak electric current is passed through them. The procedure is painless.


Acupressure is a technique similar in principle to acupuncture. It is based on the concept of life energy which flows through the meridians.

Physical pressure is applied to acupressure points to clear the blockage in these meridians. This system also uses massages to relieve the symptoms.

Chiropractic & Osteopathy

Both were developed late in the last century, and deal with the problems of the spine by physical manipulation. Both therapies are similar, and often the same therapist combines both of them. Osteopaths believe that faulty alignment of bone structure leads to many disorders, even conditions like asthma. Chiropractic treatment at times also includes exercise and nutritional advice.


Homeopathy is a system of alternative medicine created in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann, based based on his doctrine "like cures like".

It is also called the law of similars. The remedies are prepared from plants, minerals, and animal extracts that are highly diluted in a specific way that makes them safe (non-toxic), and increases their potential to cure disease.


Hypnosis is an artificially created state of consciousness, which is neither wakefulness nor sleep. During hypnosis the subject is susceptible to suggestion. Most people can be hypnotised, but it is difficult at times to hypnotise anyone against his will. Some psychiatrists use hypnosis to relieve mental conditions like phobias, addictions, smoking, and for pain relief during labour.


Naturopathy was evolved in the 1800s, and is based on the belief that the body is capable of healing itself through natural processes. It borrows from homeopathy, osteopathy, herbal medicine, and other form of alternative medicine. Treatment includes finding the correct diet (including fasting), and correct lifestyle.

Herbal Medicine

It is an ancient system of treatment involving the use of plants, or plant extracts. Many drugs used in modern medicine were derived from plants. Herbalists believe that there is a natural remedy for every ailment. Herbal medicines are administered in the form of infusions, liquids, tablets or creams.

Nutritional Supplements

They are substances that are rich in essential nutrients, or contain ingredients helpful in the digestion or metabolism of food. Advanced age impairs the body's ability to use nutrients effectively. Thus, specially the elderly often need to balance their diet with supplements.

Vitamins & Minerals

A balanced diet is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Vitamins and mineral supplements are included in dietary reccomendations of many therapies.

This is an overview of the various forms of alternative medicine. These systems are also being gradually taken up by the healthcare system available to the ailing patient.

"The Drugs & Natural Medicine Advisor" Time-Life Books, 2002.


More by :  Dr. Frank S. K. Barar

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