Types of Alternative Medicine

What are other medicinal practices around the world?

Here's a list of common types of alternative medicine that are practiced around the world. Different health conditions may require different treatment methods. Because of this, we felt it necessary to tell you about the various types of alternative therapies that are in current use today.

Many of these therapies can be used in combination to enhance the benefits you will receive in maintaining health and treating diseases.

Table of Contents for Alternative Medicine

Allopathic Medicine (Conventional Medicine)

This is the most recognized "standard" method of treating disease. Practitioners, often called physicians or MD (medical doctor), would use natural and chemically made substances to counteract the effects of the disease.

Most medications (AKA prescription medications or drugs) given by MDs require a written note called a prescription before the drugs can be legally given to the patient. Both the physicians, prescription medications and the pharmacies that dispense these drugs are under heavy and tight regulation from government agencies.

These chemically made drugs (sometime extracted and concentrated from plants or animal and modified) can produce significant unwanted and potentially dangerous side effects. This is in part due to the high concentration often given to patients to treat the condition quickly. For example, yohimbine, a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction, is extracted from the bark yohimbe. The bark yohimbe contains about 6% of the active ingredient only.

This method of treating disease focuses on treating the immediate symptoms with limited regards to the underlying health problems that might have caused the disease in the first place. It does not take a holistic approach to curing the disease.

As an example, if you have high cholesterol, most physicians will write a prescription for you to take a cholesterol lowering drug (such as Lipitor). That's pretty much what most patients will get out of their family physician in terms of useful information.

We know! In our clinical pharmacy practice, we ask the customers what else did the doctor suggest to take? The unfortunate answer. "Really, nothing else except to quit smoking, exercise a bit more and take care of your health..."

You will be hard pressed to find a physician who would recommend taking Omega-3 fatty acids for your high cholesterol. When we were practicing pharmacy 17 years ago, natural and herbal remedies were considered useless and of limited value in treating or curing diseases.

Fortunately, times are changing and we are happy to report seeing physicians recommending natural remedies and alternative medicine. However, it does not come fast enough to fight off the increase in health problems we are seeing today.


This is a 5,000 year old Chinese method of treatment involving inserting thin, metallic needles into specific points in the body to help reducing pain such as headaches, migraines, muscle spasm and nausea and vomiting.

The theory is based on the belief that the body is composed of a complicated network of energy pathways (called meridians) through which vital energy (called qi) flows. Inserting needles at specific points in the meridian will regulate and control the flow of qi.

It shows promising results in treating osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and many other health ailments. The needles are manually manipulated or electrically stimulated.

One major drawback of using acupuncture is that inserting the needles often cause temporary tingling sensation or local pain. The depth the needle is inserted varies. This may not be suitable for those patients are fearful of needles. If they wish to get the benefits of acupuncture without the use of needles, consider acupressure therapy.


This is a form therapy developed by the Chinese around 2,000 BC that involves applying finger pressure to specific points of the body called the energy pathways.

Many people refer to it as needle-free acupuncture. It is used to treat various ailments similar to what acupuncture would treat as the same points on the body are stimulated.

It is used to help with relaxation, stress reduction, improve the sense of well-being and for the treatment of varies diseases.


This therapeutic method uses scented aromatic essential oils to create a sense of well-being. It is often used in combination with other treatment options such as massage, meditation and music therapy.

The essential oils are chosen for their medicinal properties. When applied on the skin, they can be absorbed into the bloodstream and create benefits such as pain relief. As well, the fragrant oils can be placed in bathwater or inhaled to reduce stress, elevate moods and create other positive psychological effects.


This traditional Indian medicine originated more than 5,000 years ago and is believed to be the world's oldest of all natural medicine. The word translates to "science of life" and it is believed that the Chinese adapted Ayurveda as the foundation of their practice of Chinese medicine.

This natural system of treatment combines the use of herbs, yoga, exercise programs, diet, massage and others techniques. It is widely practiced in India even today.

Chelation Therapy

This therapy involves a slow infusion into the bloodstream of ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) mixed with vitamins and minerals.

It was first used to effectively treat lead poisoning. It is also used to treat other forms of toxicity in the blood such as iron, arsenic or mercury. Those receiving the treatment also reported additional benefits not related to the removal of lead from the body and this started the interest in using EDTA to treat other diseases.

Currently, chelation therapy is used to treat diabetes, clogged arteries in the hands and feet (intermittent claudication), angina, atherosclerosis and heart disease.


Chiropractic is one of the more popular alternative therapies in practice around the world today. In Greek, it means "done by hand".

It is believed that the body can cure itself when the spine is correctly aligned. When the bones are misaligned, called subluxation, the nerves cannot send signals properly and this results in pain in various parts of the body.

The practitioner uses his or her hands, and tools if necessary, to make adjustment to your spine. Some adjustments may result in the popping sounds heard coming from the adjusted spine similar to what you hear when you crack your knuckles.

Detoxification Therapy (Cleansing)

It is a general term describing a collection of cleansing treatments focused on getting rid of toxic substance from our body and keeping them away.

This alternative medicine uses chelation therapy, irrigation of the colon, natural remedies and supplements, dietary changes, exercise and other alternative medicine. 

Practitioners believe that detoxification cleans the body, clears the skin, helps with weight loss, improves fertility, increases absorption of food products, increases body flexibility, repairs organs and slows aging. They believe that the causes of many of the disease we see in society such as diabetes, cancer, asthma and mental illness are directly related to toxins that accumulate in our body.

It is a popular and widely accepted option as our population is constantly exposed to toxic substance in the air and the food that we eat.


The meaning of the word in Greek is "like disease". It is a holistic method of treating various health conditions based on the belief that the same substance that creates a disease can be used to cure the disease when given in very small doses.

As an example, onions can cause symptoms of burning watery eyes as we all know if we get onion juice in our eyes. However, a very dilute dose of this substance, allium cepa, can treat symptoms of itchy water eyes found in allergy and hay fever suffers.

The greatest controversy, even today, is that homeopathic remedies are diluted so much that, in many cases, no trace of the original substance can be detected by any of today's advanced analytical machines.

Many experts are skeptical and are against homeopathic remedies because they believe that no active ingredient means no effects and thus no benefits. They believe it works because of the mental power of the placebo effect.

Practitioners claim that the original substance is not required as its "energy" is captured in the final mixture by the mixing process. The more dilute the homeopathic mixture, the more effective it is. This is the Law of Infinitesimal Dose. Homeopathic remedies are free from any and all toxic dangers or side effects.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapists attempt to fix soft tissue problems (like muscle spasm and pain) by applying pressure with their hands or mechanical devices.

They may manipulate the body and move the arms and legs into specific positions to aid with the healing process.

Skilled massage therapists can use feedback from their fingers and apply the correct amount of pressure to ensure that the person gets the most benefits.

Magnetic Therapy

This therapy involves placing powerful magnets on the skin at various parts of the body to help relieve muscle pain and stiffness and to treat many common ailments. Current scientific research seems to suggest that it seems to work in some people.

Fortunately, it has very little risk or dangers; it either works or does not work.

One theory is that the magnets create an electrical current that stimulates the nerves to release chemicals in the body that fights pain. The other competing theory is that the magnets increase blood circulation and temperature to speed up the healing process.


Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. There are many different formats for this therapeutic method but the general definition is the intentional self-regulation of ones thought process. The person may focus on his or her breathing, heart rate or other physical sensation and different body organs that are in disease state. It may or may not involve vocalization (or chanting) depending the type of meditation practiced.

Meditation has been show to help with various health conditions. Studies show that meditation can have a positive benefit on the physiology of the body, such as changes in chemical and hormone levels.

Meditation is often associated with a religious belief but this is not often the case or required. Anyone can engage in meditation for the purpose of clearing the mind, reducing stress, controlling pain and increasing the feeling of well-being.

Music Therapy

This alternative treatment method involves exposing the person to specially designed music developed by a trained music therapist.

Research shows that music can affect the person's mood, behaviour and mental well-being. Because of this, music is used in various settings including nursing homes, hospitals, retailers and even your coffee shop to create the most suitable atmosphere. (For example, in nursing home, to reduce stress and in retail outlets, to make the shoppers to buy more!)

Naturopathic Medicine (Naturopathy or Natural Medicine)

This method of healing focuses on using the body's own immune system and repairing capabilities along with diet and lifestyle changes and the use of natural remedies.

Naturopathic doctors take an holistic approach to curing a person of various health conditions and may also use alternative medicine such as homeopathic remedies and acupuncture. The doctors evaluates the person as a whole and looks at the health status, emotional state, lifestyle, existing medical conditions and physical condition.

To cure the patient, they attempt to avoid the use of prescription and non-prescription drugs as in conventional medicine. This form of alternative medicine is extensively practiced around the world.


This treatment option involves applying pressure to specific points on the hands and feet to help control symptoms of pain and to promote general health in healthy individuals.

It is believed that a properly applied pressure on these points stimulates the nervous system which then can benefit the body organs.


This form of alternative medicine is extensively practiced in Japan.

This therapeutic method was developed in Japan and involves combining acupressure, stretching and standard massage therapy. Some consider it a Japanese form of acupressure.

Physical Therapy (PT)

The objective of physical therapy is to enhance mobility, restore physical body functions, eliminate or reduce pain and prevent further injuries. This is done by various methods such as stretching, physical exercise, massage, electrical or ultrasonic stimulation and traction.

Physiotherapists use various devices and equipment such as heat and cold packs, fitness equipment, elastic bands, weights, electrical stimulators, ultrasound and lasers.

Physical therapy is used to treat and cure muscle and joint pains and disorders, recovery from car accidents, surgery and various diseases.

Qi Gong

Qi gong is estimated to be at least 4,000 years old Chinese practice of using sounds, body postures, breathing techniques, exercises and meditation to enhance the body's Qi. It is a branch of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Qi is believed to be the life energy that is responsible for maintaining health and vitality.

There are two main types of Qi gong, internal and external. Internal Qi gong can be practiced daily by oneself. External qi gong (AKA Qi emission) is used by a Master practitioner to pass the Qi to the patient to cure him or her of the disease.

Spiritual Healing (Healing)

There are many different styles but all revolves around curing disease though prayer and belief in the Devine Power of God or a Higher Source. Spiritual healing does not require the use of any herbal remedy.

A healer, by placing his or her hands on the patient can channel the energy from God or a Higher Source to the person to cure the disease.

In distant healing, the patient does not have to be present and the healer and patient can be a considerable distance apart, something thousands of mile and across continents. The patients may or may not be aware that healing is taking place but they can obtain significant benefits for this process.

In the UK, the National Federation of Spiritual Healers defines spiritual healing as "a natural energy therapy that complements conventional medicine by treating the whole person - mind, body and spirit. Spiritual Healers act as a conduit for healing energy, often described as 'love and light' which relaxes the body, releases tensions and stimulates self-healing. The benefits of healing can be felt on many levels, as well as the physical, and the effects can be profound."

Tai Chi

This is a Chinese movement technique that involves very slow and fluid-like graceful body movements. It is believed to originate from 12th Century China and is originally a self-defense strategy.

This technique exercises the body and benefits the body and the mind and can be helpful in reducing stress, increasing flexibility, balance and strength.

Tai Chi is practiced in silence as intense concentration is often required. The session usually last up to 20 minutes and many people enjoy engaging Tai Chi daily in the morning indoors or outdoors either alone or with a group.

Therapeutic Touch (TT)

Practitioners of therapeutic touch do not need to touch the patient but actually hold their hands close to the patient to sense and correct the disrupted "energy field" that is the cause of the disease. Practitioners believe that they can engage in the conscious exchange of energy needed to heal a person. It is believed that therapeutic touch can benefit the patient by reducing pain, stress and improving general health and a sense of well-being.

It was first modernized by Dolores Krieger, PhD, RN and by her colleague, Dora Kunz in 1972. This technique does not require the patient to undress and it can be done either with the patient lying down or sitting upright in sessions lasting up to 30 minutes.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) (Chinese Herbal Medicine)

This is a very old holistic system of treating disease that dates back to over 5,000 years in the Chinese culture. In China, western medicine and Chinese medicine are used together in many hospitals.

Herbal remedies are used extensively in TCM and there are more than 2,000 types available. About 400 types of herbs are commonly used.

In addition, other techniques are also used such as cupping (putting a suction cup on the skin to promote circulation), moxibustion (burning herbs on the skin to heat the area), meditation, martial arts, feng shui and Qi gong. This form of alternative medicine is practiced extensively in China and Asian countries.


Yoga is believed to have been practiced over 5,000 years ago in India. The practice of yoga unites the mind, body and spirit and involves specific yoga postures that strengthens and aligns the body.

It is believed that these postures can promote circulation to organs and tissues. It also can contribute to relaxation, fitness and general well-being.

As well as specific postures used, breathing techniques and meditations are used to reduce stress, to calm and quiet down the mind and to promote better mental function.

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