Alternative medicine

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In Western culture, the controversial term alternative medicine is any healing practice "that does not fall within the realm of conventional medicine",[1] or "that which has not been shown consistently to be effective."[2] It is often opposed to evidence based medicine and encompasses therapies with a historical or cultural, rather than a scientific, basis. However, the term alternative medicine has been criticized by those skeptical of such practices as deceptive.[3] Richard Dawkins has stated that "there is no alternative medicine. There is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't work."[4]

The American National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) cites examples including naturopathy, chiropractic medicine, herbalism, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, meditation, yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, homeopathy, acupuncture, and nutritional-based therapies, in addition to a range of other practices.[5]

It is frequently grouped with complementary medicine, which generally refers to the same interventions when used in conjunction with mainstream techniques,[6][7][8] under the umbrella term complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM. Some researchers in alternative medicine oppose this grouping, preferring to emphasize differences of approach, but nevertheless use the term CAM, which has become standard.[9][10] "Although heterogeneous, the major CAM systems have many common characteristics, including a focus on individualizing treatments, treating the whole person, promoting self-care and self-healing, and recognizing the spiritual nature of each individual. In addition, many CAM systems have characteristics commonly found in mainstream health care, such as a focus on good nutrition and preventive practices. Unlike mainstream medicine, CAM often lacks or has only limited experimental and clinical study; however, scientific investigation of CAM is beginning to address this knowledge gap. Thus, boundaries between CAM and mainstream medicine, as well as among different CAM systems, are often blurred and are constantly changing."[6]

Alternative medicine practices are as diverse in their foundations as in their methodologies. Practices may incorporate or base themselves on traditional medicine, folk knowledge, spiritual beliefs, or newly conceived approaches to healing.[11] Jurisdictions where alternative medical practices are sufficiently widespread may license and regulate them. The claims made by alternative medicine practitioners are generally not accepted by the medical community because evidence-based assessment of safety and efficacy is either not available or has not been performed for these practices. If scientific investigation establishes the safety and effectiveness of an alternative medical practice, it then becomes mainstream medicine and is no longer "alternative", and may therefore become widely adopted by conventional practitioners.[12][13]

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