alternative medicine - definition, concepts, overview
Defining alternative and complementary medicine (CAM) is very difficult, with some practitioners refusing to accept there is anything alternative about such therapies in the first place. For some, it is simply medicine that has not been proven to the clinical standards of modern western medicine. For others, it consists of undervalued therapies that have been used successfully for millennia.
A widely accepted definition is : "A broad domain of healing resources that encompass all health systems, modalities and practices, and their accompanying theories and beliefs, other than those intrinsic to the politically dominant health system of a particular society or culture in a given historical period. It includes all such products and ideas self defined by their users as preventing or treating illness or promoting health and well-being."
definition adopted by Cochrane Collaboration :
Many complementary practitioners have a holistic approach, that means a multi-factorial and multilevel view of human illness. Disease is thought to result from disturbances at a combination of physical, psychological, social, and spiritual levels. The body's capacity for self repair, given appropriate conditions, is emphasized. An example of a holistic approach can be seen in Rudolph Steiner's anthroposophy. Each individual is unique. Scientific, artistic, and spiritual insights may need to be applied together to restore health. Life has meaning and purpose, the loss of this sense may lead to a deterioration in health. Illness may provide opportunities for positive change and a new balance in our lives.
According to most complementary practitioners, the purpose of therapeutic intervention is to restore balance and facilitate the body's own healing responses rather than to target individual disease processes or stop troublesome symptoms. They may therefore prescribe a package of care, which could include modification of lifestyle, dietary change, and exercise as well as a specific treatment. Thus, a medical herbalist may give counseling, an exercise regimen, guidance on breathing and relaxation, dietary advice, and a herbal prescription.
Edzard Ernst wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia that "about half the general population in developed countries use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)." A survey released in May 2004 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, found that in 2002, 36% of Americans used some form of alternative therapy in the past 12 months, 50% in a lifetime — a category that included yoga, meditation, herbal treatments and the Atkins diet. If prayer was counted as an alternative therapy, the figure rose to 62.1%. 25% of people who use CAM do so because medical professional suggested it. A British telephone survey by the BBC of 1209 adults in 1998 shows that around 20% of adults in Britain had used alternative medicine in the past 12 months. Another study suggesteAnother study suggests a similar figure of 40%.
The use of alternative medicine appears to be increasing, as a 1998 study showed that the use of alternative medicine had risen from 33.8% in 1990 to 42.1% in 1997. In the United Kingdom, a 2000 report ordered by the House of Lords suggested that "...limited data seem to support the idea that CAM use in the United Kingdom is high and is increasing."