Role of Alternative Medicine in Modern Society (2024)

Healthcare News & Updates

Alternative medicine has gained increasing attention in recent times, driven by factors like the growing patient-to-healthcare professional ratio, the side effects of modern medicine, and the high cost of pharmaceutical drugs. People are turning to alternative and herbal remedies offered by traditional practitioners to address chronic diseases and emerging health issues.

Sep 21
Dr Raj Patel
Uro-oncologist & Robotic Surgeon, Zydus Cancer Centre, Ahmedabad
Role of Alternative Medicine in Modern Society

This diverse field encompasses various therapeutic systems, including mind-body therapies, body manipulation, and biological treatments based on natural products. 

Natural compounds from plants, rich in pharmacologically active phytochemicals, offer several health benefits, such as antioxidative, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and analgesic effects. Alternative medicine is often affordable, noninvasive, and accessible, making it particularly appealing during terminal stages of illness. 

However, the lack of comprehensive clinical trials poses challenges in establishing its safety and effectiveness. This blog explores the evolving role of alternative medicine in our modern society.


What is Alternative Medicine and its benefits?

Alternative medicine encompasses a wide array of healing practices that diverge from conventional medical approaches. It refers to methods less embraced by medical doctors, often due to limited scientific evidence supporting them.

Here's a breakdown of related terms:

  • Alternative Medicine: This replaces conventional medical practices. For instance, using energy healing instead of mainstream treatments for a condition.
  • Complementary Medicine: It complements standard treatment. For instance, someone with migraines might take pain medications but also try biofeedback sessions.
  • Integrative Medicine: Combines conventional and alternative methods based on evidence.
  • Holistic Medicine: Considers overall health instead of specific organs or systems.


Alternative medicine aims to alleviate side effects, reduce stress, and even treat certain conditions. Integrative medicine combines proven alternative practices with conventional care, focusing on patients' preferences and holistic well-being. While conventional medicine primarily uses drugs, radiation, and surgery, some healthcare providers incorporate complementary and alternative approaches.


The question ‘Why patients use alternative medicine’ has the answer as benefits of alternative medicine. Patients often turn to alternative medicine because of the benefits of alternative medicine such as relief and a more holistic approach to health. Alternative medicine examples include acupuncture for cancer treatment side effects and special diets instead of prescribed drugs.


Alternative medicine offers diverse options, aiming to provide comprehensive and patient-centered care.


Types of Alternative Medicine

Scientists continually study CAM therapies, and while this list introduces various CAM practices. Some therapies need further research to confirm their effectiveness. If you have cancer, talk to your healthcare provider before considering these therapies. 

CAM is sometimes called "natural," "holistic," "home remedy," or "Eastern Medicine," but experts classify it into five categories, each with its own examples.


1.  Mind-body therapies

Mind-body therapies are about how your mind and body work together to manage conditions. Some examples include:



Meditation is an old practice found in religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. Nowadays, there are various types of meditation to explore, some linked to religion and some not.


Benefits of Meditation

Studies show that meditation is good for your health. It can:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce stress
  • Help with anxiety
  • Alleviate symptoms of depression
  • Ease issues like irritable bowel syndrome
  • Improve sleep
  • Provide relief during menopause

So, meditation isn't just ancient; it's also a modern remedy for many health concerns.



Biofeedback employs machines that track your body's automatic processes, like heart rate or muscle movements. These machines then turn this data into sounds, visuals, or touch cues. A therapist then guides you on how to control these signals.

Biofeedback helps you:

  • Relax tense muscles
  • Adjust your mental state
  • Manage conditions like neuromuscular disorders
  • Ease chronic pain
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Address incontinence issues

So, with biofeedback, you can learn to harness your body's responses for better well-being.



Hypnosis is when you enter a very relaxed state and concentrate on suggestions made by a clinician. These suggestions aim to alter your mental state, leading to potential health benefits.


Hypnosis Benefits

According to one survey, clinicians commonly agree that hypnosis can help with:

  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Mood disorders
  • Quitting smoking

So, hypnosis involves deep relaxation and focused suggestions to enhance your well-being.



Yoga is a practice that, like meditation, blends the mind and body, rooted in spiritual traditions. It involves performing various poses, stretches, and controlled breathing techniques. Worldwide, many people turn to yoga to boost their mental and physical health.


Potential Benefits of Yoga

Some research indicates that yoga may offer several advantages, including:

  • Reducing stress
  • Enhancing sleep quality
  • Improving balance
  • Managing anxiety and depression
  • Easing neck and lower back discomfort
  • Supporting weight management
  • Alleviating menopausal symptoms
  • Reducing symptoms of chronic conditions

However, it's essential to note that most yoga studies have involved small participant groups, so more extensive research is necessary to confirm these benefits.


Tai Chi

Tai chi, a martial art hailing from China, encompasses a sequence of slow movements and postures coupled with controlled breathing techniques.


Benefits of Tai Chi

Tai chi has shown promise in:

  •  Enhancing balance in older individuals and those with Parkinson's disease
  • Alleviating knee osteoarthritis-related pain
  • Reducing back discomfort
  • Enhancing the quality of life for individuals grappling with chronic conditions like fibromyalgia, cancer, or heart disease


These potential advantages have been suggested by some research, although further extensive studies are needed to validate these effects.


2. Biological Therapies

Biologically based therapies employ natural substances like plants and foods to enhance health or address health issues. Some examples include:


Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements are sometimes used by CAM and integrative practitioners. These supplements can include vitamins, minerals, or other helpful substances, and they are used to treat or manage various conditions.



Biologically based therapies involve using plants or plant substances for health benefits. Some common examples include 

  • Cannabis
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Curcumin from turmeric
  • Allicin from garlic
  • Valerian root


These natural remedies are used to treat various symptoms and conditions.


Special Foods and Diets

Using dietary approaches for medicine means using food itself to treat certain conditions. This can involve eating foods with special healing properties, following diets rich in specific nutrients, or avoiding certain foods entirely.


3. Biofield Therapies

Biofield therapies are methods that aim to help individuals by working with invisible energy fields. Certain medical systems and practices suggest that the energy surrounding the body can impact one's health. 

Practitioners believe that by addressing imbalances or blockages in this energy, they can treat specific conditions. 

Examples of biofield therapies include:


Therapeutic Touch

Therapeutic touch is when a practitioner gently moves their hands over someone's body to manage or restore the flow of energy.



Reiki, which comes from Japan, is a therapy where practitioners use their hands to work with the body's energy. They can place their hands on a person or work from a distance to help release blocked energy and enhance the body's natural healing power.


4. Body-Based Therapies

Body-based therapies are when a therapist uses physical movements to help a person's body for therapeutic reasons. Common examples include:



Massage is when a practitioner uses their fingers, hands, or tools to knead, rub, or press the body's soft tissue. It's been used for a long time in different cultures throughout history and involves various techniques and rhythms.



Reflexology is when a practitioner presses or massages specific points on your hands or feet. They believe this can help other parts of your body and make you feel more relaxed.


Chiropractic Therapy

This therapy involves a practitioner manipulating your muscles, tissues, or bones to help your body heal from muscle or bone problems or to reduce pain caused by certain conditions.


5. Whole Medicine Systems

Whole medicine systems are comprehensive approaches to health and healing that have developed over many years. Some famous examples include:


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an ancient healing system that centers on the balance of yin and yang forces in the body for overall health. 

TCM includes treatments like acupuncture and tai chi and has been practiced for over 2,000 years.


Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian healthcare system that focuses on the balance of five elements - air, fire, water, earth, and ether - in the body to determine its functioning. The practice of this holistic approach to health has been used for thousands of years.


Homeopathic Medicine

Homeopathy, which originated in Germany about 200 years ago, is based on two principles: "like cures like" and the idea that lower doses are more potent. 

However, there is limited scientific evidence supporting its effectiveness for any health condition. It's worth noting that some substances used in homeopathy, like white arsenic and deadly nightshade, can be toxic.


Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathy is a healthcare system that blends traditional and alternative methods. It emphasizes natural, non-invasive treatments like herbs, exercise therapy, dietary adjustments, and massage. In some parts of the world, naturopathic doctors may also prescribe conventional medications, but this depends on where you are.


Regulatory Measures & Safety of Alternative Medicine

The world of alternative medicine is diverse, and safety is a concern. Many alternative therapies lack scientific testing, making it unclear if they're safe or effective and raising the question ‘Why are doctors against alternative medicine?’. 

Doctors and patients often face a knowledge gap regarding these therapies. Some can interact with modern treatments, potentially causing harm. Herbal supplements, though natural, may carry risks, like liver damage or interference with prescription drugs. 

Regulatory practices for alternative medicine vary widely by country, with limited oversight in many places. Increasing training for healthcare professionals and educating patients about potential risks and interactions is crucial. Safety should always come first in the world of alternative medicine.


Alternative Medicine vs. Modern Medicine

When it comes to alternative medicine vs. modern medicine, there are a few key things to consider.


Scientific Evidence:

Conventional medicine goes through rigorous research, with clinical trials and studies to ensure effectiveness and safety. Alternative medicine, while also studied, may not always have as much reliable data. For instance, practices like homeopathy are not scientifically proven alternative medicine. Some exceptions, like yoga, meditation, and acupuncture, have solid backing and are recommended by experts for certain conditions.



Alternative medicine often uses natural substances, which some find appealing. However, like conventional drugs, natural remedies can have side effects, interactions, and even harmful substances. Quality control can be challenging, making consistency an issue.



Alternative treatments can be more accessible and affordable for some. They might align better with cultural beliefs, be closer to home, or offer a simpler approach. This accessibility can make alternative medicine a preferred choice, especially for those with negative healthcare experiences.

In the end, the choice between conventional and alternative medicine depends on individual needs and circumstances. It's important to discuss options with a healthcare provider to make the best decision for your health.

Alternative medicine encompasses a variety of non-mainstream health practices, from Ayurveda to reflexology. It's crucial to weigh the evidence, potential risks, and the practitioner's qualifications when choosing any treatment. 

Before trying alternative therapies, consult a medical doctor whenever possible, as these treatments can carry risks. In today's world, understanding the role of alternative medicine is essential for making informed healthcare decisions.


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1. What are the alternative medicines in modern society?

Alternative medicines in modern society include practices like acupuncture, Ayurveda, chiropractic care, herbal remedies, homeopathy, naturopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine, among others, which offer diverse approaches to healthcare outside conventional medical practices.


2. What is the importance of alternative medicine in the present time?

Alternative medicine holds importance in the present time as it offers complementary approaches to healthcare, often focusing on holistic well-being and addressing conditions that may not respond well to conventional treatments, providing patients with more diverse healthcare options.


3. What are the five examples of alternative medicine?

The five examples of alternative medicine include

  • Mind-Body Therapies
  • Biological Therapies
  • Biofield Therapies
  • Body-Based Therapies
  • Whole Medicine Systems


4. What is the new name for alternative medicine?

The new name for alternative medicine is complementary or integrative medicine.


5. What is the difference between alternative medicine and modern medicine?

The main difference between alternative medicine and modern medicine is that alternative medicine encompasses a wide range of non-mainstream therapies and treatments, often with limited scientific evidence, while modern medicine relies on rigorous scientific research and evidence-based practices.