Alternative medicine

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Alternative medicine is a broad term for any method that seeks to prevent or heal disease through methods outside of the practices of mainstream "western" medical practice. The term refers to alternatives to western medical/surgical treatment. Those who make use of both alternative and mainstream medicine often prefer the term complementary medicine, in order to highlight the desire to use alternative practices in order to complement, rather than replace, mainstream medical practice.

It should be noted that the term "alternative medicine" itself implies that all these methods see themselves as alternatives to conventional medicine. In fact some see themselves as promoting wellness, not as healing disease, and refuse to be categorized within another system's framework. Many of these methods do not attempt to diagnose or treat specific diseases, as defined by conventional medicine. For this reason, terms like "alternative health" and "alternative healing" are often preferred by practioners of these methods.

Practitioners of mainstream western medicine rely heavily on the scientific method to justify its practices, and point out how very difficult it is to make and interpret claims based on testimonials, hearsay and religious arguments. Some practitioners of some alternative healing arts may eschew the scientific method because on the grounds that it is reductionistic and because, they argue, the cold objectivity scientists impose in their search for truth tends to erode their human compassion and that it is a bias that causes them to miss complex but intuitively available observations that could be very helpful.

Other practitioners of alternative medicine, however, do believe in the scientific method, but seek to explore scientifically valid alternatives to the emphasis on using of drugs as a means of treating disease. This is true for those who advocate herbal remedies, for example, or those who emphasize improving bodily health over the use of powerful medication.

Sometimes, the boundary line between alternative and mainstream medicine changes over time. Some of the methods considered alternative at one time may later be adopted by western medicine. Other methods may never achieve any scientific support and are thus rejected as useless by the mainstream medical practicioners.


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