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Glossary of alternative medicine

This is a glossary for terms and concepts being used in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), an umbrella term for a large number of practices that fall outside the scope of conventional medicine.

Alternative medical systems - edit
NCCAM classifications
  1. Alternative Medical Systems
  2. Biologically Based Therapy
  3. Manipulative and body-based methods
  4. Energy Therapy
See also



Acupuncture is the practice of inserting very thin needles in specific acupuncture points or combinations of points on the body to improve health and well-being. There are over 1,100 acupoints that can be stimulated through the insertion of fine needles.


"Allopathy" is a term for conventional medicine, used most frequently by its critics. The word was coined by Samuel Hahnemann.

See also: Allopathic medicine

Alternative medical systems

Alternative medical systems is the precise name of a NCCAM[1] classification for those forms of alternative medicine that are built upon a complete system of theory and practice.

Alternative medicine

Alternative medicine "A group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine." Alternatively defined in the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary as: a wide range of treatments for medical conditions that people use instead of or with western medicine: Alternative medicine includes treatments such as acupuncture, homeopathy and hypnotherapy.

Other Lists of articles on alternative medicine


Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils and other aromatic compounds from plants to affect someone's mood or health.


Asklepios, (Latinate spelling Asclepius) the Greek god of medicine treated the sick with the help of his daughters, Hygeia and Panacea.

Attachment therapy

Attachment therapy is a form of therapy aimed at children with alleged 'attachment disorders', usually fostered or adopted children. It is substantially based on outdated notions of suppressed rage due to early adverse experiences. Traditionally it uses a variety of physically coercive techniques of which the most common form is holding therapy, accompanied by parenting methods which emphasize obedience. Following implication in a number of child death and maltreatment cases in the USA there has been a recent move away from coercion by some leading theorists and practitioners. It is largely unvalidated.


Ayurveda: "This comprehensive system of medicine, developed in India over 2,000 years ago, places equal emphasis on body, mind, and spirit. The goal is to restore the natural harmony of the individual. An Ayurvedic doctor identifies an individual's constitution or overall health profile by ascertaining the patient's metabolic body type (Vata, Pitta, or Kapha) through a series of personal history questions. The patient's constitution then becomes the foundation of a specific treatment plan designed to guide the individual back into harmony with his or her environment. This plan may include dietary changes, exercise, yoga, meditation, massage, herbal tonics, and other remedies."[2]


Bates Method

The Bates Method is an alternative approach to eyesight improvement and maintenance. Recent reviews and clinical trials have failed to show its effectiveness and it is largely considered pseudoscience.

Bioecological medicine

Bioecological medicine is the use of prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics for prevention and treatment of diseases. This is an approach to maintain the health of ecoorgan, thereby, health of the body.[3]


Biofeedback links the mind with the body through high-technology devices that allows the mind to control certain bodily functions. In this treatment method, an individual is hooked up to monitoring devices which provides an indication of how brain waves, breathing patterns, muscle activity, sweat gland function, pulse, skin temperature, and blood pressure are responding to relaxation techniques, such as meditation. "Biofeedback has been used to reduce stress, eliminate headaches, recondition injured muscles, control asthmatic attacks, and relieve pain."[2]

Biologically based therapies

Biologically based therapies, is the precise name of a NCCAM classification, for alternative treatments that use substances found in nature and/or some other natural therapy.

Biomedical model

The Biomedical model of health is a conceptual model of illness that excludes psychological and social factors and includes only biological factors in an attempt to understand a person's illness.

Biopsychosocial model

The Biopsychosocial model of health sees health, illness and healing as resulting from the interacting effects of events of very different types, including biological, psychological, and social factors.

Body work

Body work is the preferred name for massage treatments because this health profession is trying to disassociate itself from the sex industry. Body work "involves pressing, rubbing, and otherwise manipulating muscles and other soft tissues of the body, causing them to relax and lengthen and allowing pain relieving oxygen and blood to flow to the affected area. Using their hands and sometimes feet, elbows, and forearms, massage therapists may use over 75 different methods, such as Swedish message, deep-tissue massage, neuromuscular massage, and manual lymphatic drainage. Massage is considered effective for relieving any type of pain in the body's soft tissue, including back, neck, and shoulder pain, headaches, bursitis, and tendinitis.[2]

Breathing meditation

Many forms of meditation, especially Asian, focus on breathing in their technique. Yoga, qigong, vipassana, etc. "Deep breathing involves slow, deep inhalation through the nose, usually for a count of 10, followed by slow and complete exhalation for a similar count. To help quiet the mind, one generally concentrates fully on breathing and counting through each cycle. The process may be repeated 5 to 10 times, several times a day."[2]



CAM is an acronym for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. This is an umbrella term for a large range of treatments and of theories on the nature of health and illness, many of them unrelated, which have in common that they are not commonly employed by the conventional medical establishment.

While some scientific evidence exists for or against some CAM therapies, for most there are key questions that are yet to be answered through well-designed studies, including whether these therapies are safe, whether they work for the diseases or medical conditions for which they are used, and whether the explanations proponents offer for them are correct.

The list of therapies included under CAM changes gradually. If and when CAM therapies that are proven to be safe and effective become adopted into conventional health care, they gradually cease to be considered CAM, since adoption and acceptance often take time. See complementary and alternative medicine regarding definitions of CAM.

More information on CAM can be found at the National Institutes of Health website.[1]

Chelation therapy

Chelation therapy is the use of chelating agents such as EDTA to remove heavy metals from the body. While in conventional medicine, chelation therapy is used only to treat heavy metal poisoning, some alternative practitioners advocate the use of chelation therapy to treat coronary artery disease.

Chinese medicine

The group of philosophies embodied by Chinese medicine are, more accurately, referred to as Oriental Medicine with roots in many different Asian countries. This millennia-old Asian medical tradition works to bring balance to the body through acupuncture, massage, Eastern herbalism, diet; and lifestyle changes such as martial arts and meditation.


Chiropractic is a popular form of alternative medicine in which the most commonly utilized intervention is spinal manipulation. Some chiropractors maintain that their spinal adjustments move vertebrae to release pressure on spinal nerves to improve health. "This care involves the adjustment of the spine and joints to influence the body’s nervous system and natural defense mechanisms to alleviate pain and improve general health. It is primarily used to treat back problems, headaches, nerve inflammation, muscle spasms, and other injuries and traumas."[2]

Christian Science

Christian Science is a small denomination that teaches that Christian healing as practiced by Jesus of Nazareth and his followers for several centuries after him, was in fact not a short-term dispensation to induce faith but had an underlying principle (specifically God) and method. While its practice is regarded within the denomination as incompatible with medical care, it also respects the philanthropy of the medical faculty and is uncondemningly non-compulsory. Resort to Christian Science may be private or involve the care of a Christian Science practitioner.

Complementary medicine

Complementary medicine refers to treatments that are used alongside ("complementary to") conventional medicine.


Diet-based therapy

Diet-based therapy uses a variety of diets in order to improve health and longevity, to control weight, as well as to treat specific health conditions like high cholesterol.

  • Breatharian
  • Fruitarianism
  • List of diets
  • Living foods diet
  • Macrobiotic lifestyle
  • Okinawa diet
  • Ovo-lacto vegetarian
  • Raw foodist
  • Vegan
  • Vegetarianism
  • Low-fat diet
  • Low-carb diet (Zone diet, Atkins diet)

A survey released in May 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine focused on who used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), what was used, and why it was used in the United States by adults age 18 years and over during 2002. According to this recent survey, Diet-based therapy as a form of CAM was to treat 3.5% of the adult population in the United States during 2002.[4]

Disease models

Disease models are how people who have studied diseases try to explain them.

Doctrine of signatures

The Doctrine of Signatures was developed around 1500 and claims that a plant's physical appearance reveals its medical value. The Doctrine of Signatures is often associated with Western herbalism.


Eclectic medicine

Eclectic medicine was a nineteenth-century system of medicine used in North America that treated diseases by the application of single herbal remedies to effect specific cures of certain signs and symptoms.

Energy therapies

Energy therapies is the name of a NCCAM[1] classification, for alternative treatments that involve the use of purported energy fields.

Exercise-based therapy

Exercise-based therapy uses a variety of traditional forms of physical exercise in order to improve health and longevity, to increase muscle mass, as well as to treat specific health conditions and to relieve stress.


Flower essence therapy

Flower essence therapy is a sub-category of homeopathy which uses homeopathic dilutions of flowers. This practice was begun by Edward Bach with the Bach flower remedies but is now practiced much more widely, utilizing flowers all over the world. There are numerous makers of flower essences, using the flowers that are local to their region.

Folk medicine

Folk medicine is the collection of procedures traditionally used for treatment of illness and injury, aid to childbirth, and maintenance of wellness.



Grahamism recommended hard mattresses, open bedroom windows, chastity, cold showers, loose clothing, pure water and vigorous exercise.

Green prescription

A green prescription is a card given by a doctor or nurse to a patient, with exercise and lifestyle goals written on it.

Group modalities

Group modalities are forms of CAM that an individual must seek out and perform with a group of like minded people.


"Healing with Animals"

Healing with Animals is a documentary about healing relationships between animals and people.


Herbalism is the practice of making or prescribing herbal remedies for medical conditions.


Herbology is the traditional Chinese medical practice of combining plants, minerals, and parts of animals for medical treatment.

Heroic medicine

Heroic medicine is any medicine or method of treatment that is aggressive or daring in a dangerously ill patient.


Holism is the study and advocacy of wholeness in health, science, politics, or any other area of life.


Homeopathy is an alternative medical practice founded on similars. The underlying theory is that disease states are cured by remedies which produce, on a healthy person, similar effects to the symptoms of the patient's complaint. "For example, someone suffering from insomnia may be given a homeopathic dose of coffee. Administered in diluted form, homeopathic remedies are derived from many natural sources, including plants, metals, and minerals. Numbering in the thousands, these remedies have been used to treat a wide variety of ailments including seasonal allergies, asthma, influenza, headaches, and indigestion."[2]


Hypnotherapy is the treatment of a symptom, disease, or addiction by means of hypnotism. Hypnosis is "an altered state of consciousness, it is characterized by increased responsiveness to suggestion. The hypnotic state is attained by first relaxing the body then shifting the client's attention toward a narrow range of objects or ideas as suggested by the hypnotist or hypnotheraptist. The procedure is used to access various levels of the mind to effect positive changes in a person's behavior and to treat numerous health conditions. For example, hypnosis has been used to lose weight, improve sleep, and reduce pain and stress."[2]


Hydrotherapy is the external use of water in the medical treatment of disease.


Index of articles on CAM

Integrative medicine

Integrative medicine, as defined by NCCAM[1], combines conventional medical treatments and CAM alternative treatments for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of their safety and effectiveness.

The term Integrative Medicine has been attributed to Dr Andrew Weil, but this phrase was actually coined by the Californian physician and author, Dr Elson Haas.[5]

"Integrative medicine is the term being used for a new movement that is being driven by the desires of consumers but that is now getting the attention of many academic health centers. Importantly, integrative medicine is not synonymous with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). It has a far larger meaning and mission in that it calls for restoration of the focus of medicine on health and healing and emphasizes the centrality of the patient-physician relationship. In addition to providing the best conventional care, integrative medicine focuses on preventive maintenance of health by paying attention to all relative components of lifestyle, including diet, exercise, stress management, and emotional well-being. It insists on patients being active participants in their health care as well as on physicians viewing patients as whole persons—minds, community members, and spiritual beings, as well as physical bodies. Finally, it asks physicians to serve as guides, role models, and mentors, as well as dispensers of therapeutic aids."[6]


Interventions are any attempt to modify a medical or health condition.


Iridology is the study of the iris to determine health. (See also eyology and sclerology.)


Jin Shin Jyutsu

Jin Shin Jyutsu is an ancient Japanese technique for energy healing, using deep breathing and the placement of one's hands on specific areas of the body, called Safety Energy Locks (or SELs). It was rediscovered in Japan in the early 1900's by Master Jiro Murai. He taught the techniques to Mary Burmeister in the late 1940s, who brought it to the US. [7]


Journaling is a technique for reducing stress by writing about stressful events in your life.


Life extension

Life extension is a movement the goal of which is to live longer through intervention, and to increase maximum lifespan or average lifespan, especially in mammals. Researchers of life extension are a subclass of biogerontologists known as "biomedical gerontologists". See also the List of life extension related topics.


Lifestyle describes the particular attitudes, habits or behaviors associated with an individual.

Lifestyle diseases

Lifestyle diseases are diseases that appear to increase in frequency as countries become more industrialized and people live longer.


Manipulative and body-based methods

Manipulative and body-based methods, is the precise name of a NCCAM[1] classification, for alternative treatments that are based on manipulation and/or movement of one or more parts of the body (See also Manipulative therapy).

Manual lymphatic drainage

Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) is a type of gentle massage which is believed by proponents to encourage the natural circulation of the lymph through the body.

Massage therapy

Massage therapy "involves pressing, rubbing, and otherwise manipulating muscles and other soft tissues of the body, causing them to relax and lengthen and allowing pain relieving oxygen and blood to flow to the affected area. Using their hands and sometimes feet, elbows, and forearms, massage therapists may use over 75 different methods, such as Swedish message, deep-tissue massage, neuromuscular massage, and manual lymphatic drainage. Massage is considered effective for relieving any type of pain in the body's soft tissue, including back, neck, and shoulder pain, headaches, bursitis, and tendinitis.[2]


"Mental calmness and physical relaxation is achieved [with meditation] by suspending the stream of thoughts that normally occupy the mind. Generally performed once or twice a day for approximately 20 minutes at a time, meditation is used to reduce stress, alter hormone levels, and elevate one's mood, In addition, a person experienced in meditation can achieve a reduction in blood pressure, adrenaline levels, heart rate, and skin temperature."[2] Other forms of meditation work with focussing or distracting one's attention rather than "suspending the stream of thoughts".

Mind-body connection

The mind-body connection says that the causes, development, and outcomes of an illness are determined as much from the interaction of psychological and social factors as they are due to the biological factors of health.

Mind-body interventions

Mind-body interventions, is the precise name of a NCCAM classification, that covers a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms.

Modality classifications

This is a classification by who is performing the CAM treatments.

  1. Professionalized
  2. Self-Care
  3. Group Performances


Moxa is an herbal preparation of mugwort dried and rolled into a pole which resembles a cigar. It is not smoked, but used for warming regions on the body including acupuncture points. Use of moxa is called moxibustion. It is one of the techniques of traditional Chinese medicine.


Nature cure

Nature cure is the progenitor of naturopathy in Europe. It postulates that all disease is due to violations of nature's laws, and that true healing consists in a return to natural habits.

Natural health

Natural health is an eclectic self-care system of natural therapies that purports to build and restore health by working with the natural recuperative powers of the human body.

Natural hygiene

Natural hygiene is a variation of the nature cure. Its major practices are fasting, food combining, and a raw food diet.

Naturopathic medicine

Naturopathy is the eclectic practice of Naturopathic Doctors (N.D.) using many different natural therapies as treatment. The original method of treatment of Naturopathy was the water cure.

Natural therapy

Natural therapy is the treatment method used by advocates of natural health.

NCCAM classifications

NCCAM[1] has classified complementary and alternative therapies into five different categories, or domains.

  1. Alternative Medical Systems
  2. Mind-Body Intervention
  3. Biologically Based Therapy
  4. Manipulative and body-based methods
  5. Energy Therapy



Orthopathy started in 1802 in the US and developed into the natural hygiene movement.


Physical education

Physical educators teach physical fitness and exercise.

Plum blossom

Plum blossom (Chinese medicine) is the name of both a tool (also called "Seven Star") and a technique in traditional Chinese medicine, as well as a metaphor used by several different Chinese martial arts.

Professionalized modalities

A professional used in this context is referring to a person engaging in a given activity as a source of livelihood or as a career. It is a provider-based therapy where someone who is knowledgeable about a specific alternative health therapy provides care or gives advice about its use. It refers to all doctor - patient relationships where the professional is functioning in the role of a doctor, whether licensed or not. The professional is providing some type of treatment or therapy which the patient cannot perform on themselves.

Progressive relaxation

"This therapy involves the successive tensing and relaxing of each of the 15 major muscle groups. Performed lying down, one generally begins with the head and progresses downward, tensing each muscle as tightly as possible for a count of 5 to 10 and then releasing it completely. often combined with deep breathing, progressive relaxations is particularly useful for reducing stress, relieving tension, and inducing sleep."[2]



Qigong is an increasingly popular exercise aspect of Chinese medicine. Qigong is mostly taught for health maintenance purposes, but there are also some who teach it, especially in China, for therapeutic interventions. There are hundreds of different schools, and it is also an adjunct training of many East Asian martial arts.


R-A therapy

R-A Therapy an alternative cancer therapy utilizing natural substances that purports to induce re-differentiation and apopotosis in tumors so as to cause a reduction of cancer cell numbers or an elimination of aggregations of malignant cells [8].


Reiki purports to be an energy healing therapy, which is claimed to help the body's ability to heal itself through the flow and focusing of healing energy (reiki means "ghostly energy"). During treatment, this healing energy is said to be channeled through the hands of a practitioner into the client's body to restore a normal energy balance and health. Energy healing therapy has been used to attempt treatment of a wide variety of ailments and health problems and is sometimes used in conjunction with other alternative and conventional medical treatments.[2]


Self-care modalities

Self-care modalities are forms of CAM that an individual can perform by themselves, even if they need to be trained to do so. These cover techniques that can be self-taught with the aid of books or instructional videos, or can be learned from an experienced practitioner. Although some initial training is needed, once these techniques are learned, you will need no additional outside assistance unless you want to improve your skills.

Sweat therapy

Sweat therapy is the combination of group counseling/psychotherapy with group sweating. Group sweating is social interaction while experiencing psychophysiological responses to heat exposure. Group sweating has strong cultural validity as it has existed throughout the world for thousands of years to promote well-being. Examples include the Finnish Sauna, the Russian Bania, the American Indian Sweat Lodge Ceremony, the Islamic Hammam, the Japanese Mushi-Buro, and the African Sifutu. Sweat therapy has been found to accelerate and intensify counseling process. Sweating procedures are benficial for the prevention and treatment of some lung, heart, and skin problems. It promotes deeper sleep, pain relief, muscle relaxation, and has been helpful in treating insomnia and arthritis. It also promotes positive effects on feeling states.



The word Tantra emphasizes a ritual connection with elements from an Indian cultural background. Tantric tradition uses sexual rituals for spiritual development.

Therapeutic nihilism

Therapeutic nihilism is skepticism regarding the therapeutic value of drugs or medical treatment voiced by physicians. The Hippocratic Oath exhorts doctors to avoid therapeutic nihilism.


A form of herbalism in use during the 19th century in the US.

Tibetan eye chart

A mandala-like chart used to improve eyesight through exercise.

Traditional Chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a system of health care which is based on the Chinese notion of harmony and balance inside the human body as well as harmony between the body and its outside environment.

Traditional Japanese medicine

Pre-Western Japanese medicine was strongly influenced by traditional Chinese medicine and is often seen as a sub-category of TCM. It includes the following practices:


Unani medicine

See Unani.


A specialized branch of alternative medicine, including any sort of oral or external application of urine for medicinal or cosmetic purposes, see urine therapy.



Visualization, or guided imagery, "involves a series of relaxation techniques followed by the visualization of detailed images, usually calm and peaceful in nature. If used for treatment, the client may visualize his/her body as healthy, strong, and free of the specific problem or condition. Sessions, conducted in groups or one-on-one, are typically 20-30 minutes and may be practiced several times a week. Guided imagery has been advocated for a number of chronic conditions, including headaches, stress, high blood pressure, and anxiety."[2]


Water Cure

The water cure was a form of therapy developed in 18th century England by a doctor named Richard Russell. It generally consisted of varieties of water-related treatment — bathing in seawater, the drinking of sea water, and activities reminiscent of modern day spas. It became especially popular during the 19th century where health spas devoted to the “cure” were well-known medical institutions for the upper-class, especially those with malingering or persistent illness. See also Water therapy.


Wellness has been used in CAM contexts since Halbert Dunn, M.D. began using the phrase "high level wellness" in the 1950s, based on a series of lectures at a Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington, VA.[9] Wellness is generally used to mean a healthy balance of the mind-body and spirit that results in an overall feeling of well-being.


Wholeness has come to connote more than mere completeness or fullness. It implies a reality, system or truth in which all parts or aspects are present in right and healthy relationship with each other. (See the article on Holism, for additional information.)




Yoga is a diverse and ancient East Indian practise. There are many different styles and schools of yoga. It is generally a combination of breathing exercises, physical postures, and meditation, that calms the nervous system and balances body, mind, and spirit. It is thought to prevent specific diseases and maladies by relaxing the body, deepening respiration and calming the mind. Yoga has been used to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and improve flexibility, concentration, sleep, and digestion. It has also been used as supplementary therapy for such diverse conditions as cancer, diabetes, asthma, and AIDS.


Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d e f U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. What is CAM?
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Barnes, Patricia; Eve Powell-Griner; Kim McFann; Richard L. Nahin (2004). "Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults: United States, 2002 (PDF)". available online Centers for Disease Control.
  3. ^ Bengmark S (2006). "[The bioecological medicine is here to stay. About microflora, synbiotics, immunity and resistance against disease]" (in Swedish). Lakartidningen 103 (5): 293–7. PMID 16512568.
  4. ^ Barnes, Patricia, et al., p. 8, table 1
  5. ^ Staying Healthy with Dr. Elson Haas, Dr. Elson Haas.available online
  6. ^ Snyderman R, Weil AT (2002). "Integrative medicine: bringing medicine back to its roots". Arch. Intern. Med. 162 (4): 395–7. PMID 11863470.
  7. ^ Jin Shin Jyutsu, Inc. available online
  8. ^ The Scientific Basis of R-A Therapy
  9. ^ DUNN HL (1959). "High-level wellness for man and society" (Scanned & PDF). Am J Public Health Nations Health 49 (6): 786–92. PMID 13661471.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Glossary_of_alternative_medicine". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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