The terms alternative medicine, complementary medicine, integrative medicine, holistic medicine, natural medicine, unorthodox medicine, fringe medicine, unconventional medicine, and new age medicine are used interchangeably as having the same meaning, and are almost synonymous in most contexts. Terminology has shifted over time, reflecting the preferred branding of practitioners.For example, the United States National Institutes of Health department studying alternative medicine, currently named the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), was established as the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) and was renamed the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) before obtaining its current name. Therapies are often framed as “natural” or “holistic”, implicitly and intentionally suggesting that conventional medicine is “artificial” and “narrow in scope
Complementary medicine (CM), complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), integrated medicine or integrative medicine (IM), and holistic medicine are among many rebrandings of the same phenomenon. Alternative therapies share in common that they reside outside medical science, and rely on pseudoscience. Alternative medicine is distinct from experimental medicine, which employs the scientific method to test plausible therapies by way of responsible and ethical clinical trials, producing evidence of either effect or of no effect. Research into alternative treatments often fails to follow proper research protocol and denies calculalaton of prior probability, providing invalid results. Traditional practices become “alternative” when used outside their original settings without proper scientific explanation and evidence. Frequently used derogatory terms for the alternative are new-age or pseudo, with little distinction from quackery. Alternative medicine describes any practice which aims to achieve the healing effects of medicine, but which lacks biological plausibility and is untested or untestable. In some cases AM treatments are proven ineffective.
In some cases, the claims of alternative practices violate laws of nature; in others, the practice is plausibly effective but so dangerous to the patient that any use is unethical. Alternative practices often resort to the supernatural or superstitious to explain their effect, and range from ineffective to harmful and toxic.
Much of the perceived effect of an alternative practice arises from a belief that it will be effective (the placebo effect), or from the treated condition resolving on its own (the natural course of disease). This is further exacerbated by the tendency to turn to alternative treatments upon the failure of medicine, at which point the condition will be at its worst and most likely to spontaneously improve. In the absence of this bias, especially for diseases that are not expected to get better by themselves such as cancer or HIV infection, multiple studies have shown significantly worse outcomes if patients turn to alternative therapies. While this may be because these patients avoid effective treatment, some alternative treatments actively interfere with effective ones.
Read about the history of allopathic medicine