The terms ‘alternative’ and ‘complementary’ medicine are used widely in the medical field despite many people not being entirely sure of their meaning and how they are practiced. Considering that the majority of people who require medical treatment will also undertake some form of alternative or complementary therapies it is important to understand them.

Alternative therapies are treatments in and of themselves which aim to alleviate symptoms, reduce pathology and ultimately attempt to cure illness. They can be fully developed systems designed for a specific use or can be very broad in their scope of treatment. Complementary therapies are treatments which act in conjunction with the traditional treatments provided by western medicine. They are normally not meant to be practiced alone and will often be offered by practicing physicians primarily as a means of palliative or holistic care.

Alternative therapies have been the interest of much scrutiny for a number of years. By definition alternative therapies have not necessarily been substantiated with peer reviewed articles, yet both public and scientific inquiry has increased recently and with good reason. Alternative therapies have been shown to have astounding effects on some people leading to genuine curiosity on the part of the scientific community. As such the public interest in alternative therapies has increased as well, with many people opting to fore-go traditional western medical treatment in favor of what are considered more natural and ‘safe’ methods offered by alternative medicine.

Of course it is important to acknowledge that despite of innumerable studies into human pathophysiology, doctors and scientists still do not fully understand a large number of diseases and their causes. While treatments are often decided upon based on the most current medical literature, the scope that alternative therapies can play in treatment of disease has been so far wildly underestimated in traditional medicine, leading to a potential oversight by doctors and practitioners.

Regardless of the level of investigation put into alternative therapies and their mechanisms of action the results are real and documented in substantial numbers of patients who now lead better lives as a result. Alternative therapies should always be considered with traditional and complementary medicine.