Glossary of Alternative Medicine
Sometimes navigating alternative medicine (also called integrative, functional or holistic medicine) can be difficult if you don’t understand the language that commonly comes up. This glossary of alternative medicine will give you a quick look at some of the most common naturopathic terms and what they mean.
Acupressure is an integrative medicine technique that operates on the same principles as acupuncture, but uses finger pressure instead of needles. Acupressure is based on the concept of life energy, or Qi, which moves through the body by flowing through different meridians. Acupressure is a type of massage therapy that targets meridian points in order to balance the flow of Qi and address various health problems, including chronic pain, eczema, fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) incorporates a full philosophy of treatment and a number of different therapeutic options including acupuncture. Acupuncture, like acupressure, is based on the concept of balancing Qi by manipulating the body at different meridian points in order to stimulate healing processes. Unlike acupressure, which uses the application of pressure to those points, acupuncture is the practice of inserting thin, sterile needles into points on the body and gently manipulating them. Acupuncture is used to address a wide range of patient concerns, including gastrointestinal diseases, pain management, addiction, and arthritis. Other TCM techniques may also be employed during an acupuncture session including cupping, moxibustion (burning of an herb over the acupuncture points) and Tui Na (Chinese meridian massage).
“Alternative medicine” is an umbrella term that includes all wellness practices that address health issues using natural, non-invasive procedures which focus on the body’s ability to self heal. Examples of popular alternative medicines include naturopathic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture, homeopathy, and massage therapy. This terminology is increasingly being replaced by ‘integrative medicine’ which connotes holistic therapies integrated into the healthcare system instead of being viewed as alternative to.
Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment that uses the scents of essential oils to improve physical and emotional wellness. Aromatherapy can include the use of essential oil that is circulated in the air with a diffuser, be applied to the body during a massage therapy session or at pulse points, and added to hot bath water. Aromatherapy is often used to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve sleep.
Bioenergetics is a branch of science that studies the way biological organisms transform energy to perform various biological processes, such as glycogenesis, gluconeogenesis, and cellular respiration.
The acronym CAM stands for “complementary and alternative medicine” but is now considered outdated and not as commonly used. CAM simply refers to all medicine practices that are outside of the mainstream and can be used as a complement, or alternative to conventional medical practices. Integrative medicine reflects the collaborative practice uniting holistic medicine with the conventional, towards the best interests of patient health and wellbeing.
Functional medicine is medical practice that focuses on identifying the root cause of a health issue through a systems-oriented approach. Functional medicine relies heavily on collaboration with the patient and analyzing each individual’s medical history. Licensed practitioners may take certification courses in functional medicine or may use the terminology to describe their approach.
Herbalism is the use of herbal supplements and plant-based medicine for healing. Herbalism is also sometimes referred to as “phytotherapy.” Medicines used in herbalism come in various forms, including capsules, salves, tinctures, and teas. Many cultures across the globe have rich traditions using botanicals as medical interventions. Research into the mechanism of action for various herbal therapies is growing.
Holistic medicine is an approach to wellness that addresses and benefits the whole person, including mind, body, and spirit. It refers to all integrative, alternative and complementary healthcare practices, including naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, homeopathy, massage therapy, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), herbalism, and all other integrative medical practices.
Developed in Germany in the 1700s, homeopathy is the practice of using small amounts of natural substances, such as plants or minerals, to stimulate natural healing processes. Homeopathy is popularly used for allergies, chronic fatigue, migraines, digestive disorders, and various other health conditions.
In the United States and Canada, a licensed naturopathic doctor (ND/NMD) is a medical practitioner who has completed a doctorate in naturopathic medicine through an accredited program and successfully passed the Naturopathic Physicians’ Licensing Exam (NPLEX) or College of Naturopaths of Ontario (CONO) examination. Other countries may have different educational requirements. Naturopathic medicine is a distinct health care profession that combines the wisdom of nature with the rigors of modern science. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are trained as primary care providers who diagnose, treat and manage patients with acute and chronic conditions, while addressing disease and dysfunction at the level of body, mind and spirit.
Naturopathy is a field of alternative medicine that centers the body’s self-healing capabilities and uses changes in diet, lifestyle, and various holistic treatments tailored to a patient’s individual wellness requirements. It is important to note that use of the term “naturopathy” is not regulated in some jurisdictions, and people with little to no formal training can use it. If someone calls themself a “naturopath”, or “traditional naturopath” this does not mean that they are a licensed naturopathic doctor or have undergone the accredited training NDs study. Naturopathy is practiced world-wide, and honors many cultural healing methods, depending on the country of origin.
In the United States, osteopathy or osteopathic medicine is a type of medical approach practiced by osteopathic physicians who have completed an osteopathic medical degree. Osteopathic physicians prescribe medications, perform surgeries, and specialize in various aspects of medicine similar to conventional medical doctors. In other parts of the world outside North America, the term “osteopathy” is used to describe the alternative medical practice of physically manipulating bones and muscle tissue in order to promote healing. Some osteopathic physicians in the United States practice Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine in addition to the hospital-based medical training they receive.