Systems of medicine explained: Conventional, alternative, integrative, complementary and more

What’s the deal with all the different systems of medicine? And what’s the difference between “Western medicine” and “conventional medicine?” Here, you’ll find some honest answers.

“Conventional medicine” refers to the classic medical training offered through mainstream medical schools. This is a drugs-and-surgery approach to medicine that largely excludes nutrition, wellness, mind-body medicine, patient education, and other natural therapies.

“Organized medicine” refers to the collection of organizations that promote conventional medicine. This encompasses pharmaceutical companies, the FDA, hospitals, doctors, medical schools, and medical organizations such as the American Medical Association as well as disease organizations like the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association. It’s called organized medicine because it is an organized system of profit-minded players who engage in the marketing, screening, diagnosis and treatment of diseases, all under the watchful eye of the FDA, using tactics that resemble organized crime.

“Western medicine” refers to the type of medicine practiced in the West; the United States, Western Europe, and so on. It’s based on the philosophical foundations of Western thinking, which maintains that a body is only a collection of its parts, and that by isolating the parts and studying them separately, you can understand the whole.

This philosophy stands in great contrast to Eastern philosophies, the practitioners of which believe that the whole can only be understood through the synergistic functioning of its parts. “Eastern medicine looks at the whole patient, the whole body, the whole experience, and never believes that just treating one organ or using one chemical, drug, or herb is the answer to any health condition.

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“Traditional Chinese medicine,” sometimes shortened to TCM, involves the treatment of patients using the fundamental approaches of healing developed over the last 4000 years in China. The treatments in Chinese medicine include acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and Tui-Na, which resembles massage therapy combined with therapeutic touch. Chinese medicine has the longest history, and the most practical application, of any system of medicine in the world, outdating Western medicine by about 3800 years. In China, doctors were practicing relatively advanced medicine before the birth of Christ. Western medicine, in response, dismisses everything under Chinese medicine, ignoring the long history of safe and effective use of Chinese herbs, acupuncture, and other philosophies espoused by Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Chinese medicine is not limited to China, by the way. It is practiced throughout Asia, including Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and many other countries. The way it is practiced in the United States is not true Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine education has become Westernized in the United States. Just like the Chinese food served in the United States is nothing like Chinese food purchased in China, Chinese medicine in the United States doesn’t match the Chinese medicine practiced in China.

“Ayurvedic medicine” is a system of holistic medicine practiced widely in India and throughout Southeast Asia. It is also gaining popularity and recognition in the United States, Europe, Australia and many other areas of the world as people come to recognize the inherent wisdom and innate safety of Ayurvedic medicine. Based on thousands of years of development and use, Ayurvedic medicine is organized around the energy patterns of individuals (the way they use their bodies, what they eat, how they digest, levels of body heat, etc.) and treatment using a wide array of medicinal herbs and substances (like essential oils, coconut oil, and so on). There is also a prominent recognition of the mind/body link in Ayurvedic medicine.

Recent scientific studies have shown popular Ayurvedic herbs to exhibit powerful medicinal effects, even from a Western point of view. Turmeric, for example, halts the growth of cancer tumors. Cinnamon stabilizes blood sugar, and gymnema sylvestre helps block dietary sugars while supporting the regeneration of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Ayurvedic medicine has known all this — and much more — for centuries. Western doctors, of course, completely dismiss the entire system of Ayurvedic medicine as quackery, ignoring its many thousands of years of safe, effective use on literally billions of people, and overlooking its enormous knowledge base of wisdom and experience in supporting balanced, holistic health.

Exotic systems / emerging systems: Many “undiscovered” systems of natural medicine are slowly making their way to Western societies. “Tibetan medicine” is beginning to gain momentum, partially thanks to the outstanding work of the Dalai Lama and the accelerating movement of Tibetan Buddhism in Western culture. Australian aborigines have their own system of medicine, as do various native populations in the South Pacific, Africa, and throughout many areas of South America including Peru, Brazil and Argentina.

“Complementary medicine” is a term that defenders of conventional medicine like to use to claim intellectual ownership over alternative medicine. Complementary medicine means combining conventional therapies with alternative therapies, but the alternative therapies are almost always dismissed from being the primary treatments as they are routinely relegated to supportive roles. For example, complementary medicine’s supporters might say that ginger is great for reducing nausea following chemotherapy, but they would never say ginger or garlic are anticancer herbs in their own right.

Promoters of “complementary medicine” are usually closet drugs-and-surgery pushers who use this phrase to avoid appearing totally out of touch with health trends. The complementary medicine movement is largely an attempt by conventional medicine promoters to prevent their harmful system of medicine from appearing completely irrelevant as the public turns to safer, more effective and natural alternatives. Conventional doctors refer to it as CAM, or Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

“Alternative medicine” is a somewhat outdated term that refers to everything outside the realm of conventional medicine. It’s outdated because alternative medicine is now mainstream medicine. Most people use it, and the only reason more people don’t is because health-insurance refuses to cover most of the therapies in alternative medicine. This term will probably fade away as the use of natural healing therapies becomes even more popular with the general public.

“Integrative medicine” is a relatively recent term that typically describes a more balanced, welcoming approach to using natural therapies alongside conventional ones. While this system of medicine still uses conventional medicine therapies such as drugs and surgeries, it usually recommends them only as a last resort, instead attempting to prevent or treat health conditions using natural therapies first.

“Advanced medicine” refers to the future of medicine, based on supporting the patient’s health and wellness rather than attacking the patient with various chemicals or procedures like radiation and surgery. Advanced medicine is the first step to the new age of understanding about the true underlying causes of health and wellness. Advanced medicine makes conventional medicine and Western medicine obsolete, and it includes therapies like phototherapy, sunlight, nutrition, sound therapy, vibrational medicine, electromedicine, mind-body medicine, energy healing, and other similar modalities that were once considered experimental, but are now well-known to be both safe and effective at supporting the health of the patient.

The term “junk science” is used by defenders of conventional medicine to discredit everything outside conventional medicine, regardless of whether or not it is based on sound scientific ground.

Similarly, the term “quackery” or “quack” is also used by the defenders of conventional medicine to describe anything outside the realm of conventional medicine. If it’s not something they control, own the intellectual rights to, or profit from, the defenders of conventional medicine call it quackery, regardless of its merit as a genuine healing therapy. The real quacks, though, are the old, out-of-touch zealots of conventional medicine who can now best serve humanity by either retiring or dying. Scientific revolutions, you see, only happen when the defenders of old, outdated beliefs pass away, creating space for the rise of new, more advanced ideas from younger thinkers who don’t have their careers and egos invested in old ways of thinking. See the book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions to learn more.

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