alternative medicine Approaches to medical diagnosis and therapy that have been developed outside the established standards, practices, and institutional sites of conventional medical science. Included are a great number of theories and "systems," including therapeutic nutrition, chiropractic, homeopathy, structural, energetic therapies and mind-body therapies; traditional non-Western ethnomedicinal system such as Chinese medicine and ayurveda, which combine botanical medicine with other applications; other uses of botanical substances; and various treatments that simply have not been accepted by the medical establishment. This is not to say that, were these methods subjected to scientific study, all of them would be found to be ineffective. Alternative medicine has been variously called "natural," " complementary" (the preferred term in Europe), and numerous other terms referring to elements of a particular modality or tradition. "Alternative medicine" is not equivalent to "holistic medicine," a more narrow term.
Traditional ethnomedicinal systems are typically holistic, meaning that they aim to treat the whole person rather than a specific disease or symptom and that they therefore address not only the physical patient but also the mind and spirit. It is typically assumed that each individual possesses an innate healing capacity (an "immune system" in the broadest sense), and the goal of such treatment generally is to reinforce this, restoring strength and "balance" to weakened systems with a variety of natural modalities: foods, herbs and other botanicals, "body work," detoxification, and so on, tailored as much as possible for the individual. The use of alternative therapies for AIDS grew out of this same eclectic mix.
alternative therapy See alternative treatment.
alternative treatment Generally, therapy with procedures or agents that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or other certifying authority. Alternative medical treatments have been used by a significant proportion of people with HIV, often to complement approved treatments. Some alternative treatments have been investigated in laboratory settings and observational studies, and a few have undergone clinical trials; others are being used without having undergone any studies. Alternative treatments are available for a variety of conditions, including weakened immune system, stress, drug abuse, mental disorders, common health problems, pregnancy, childbirth and infant care, dental care, eye, ear, nose and throat disorders, cancer and heart disorders, and aging. Alternative medicine combines many different Eastern and Western medical specialties: ayurveda medicine, Chinese medicine, acupuncture and acupressure, nutrition, exercise, NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE, HOMEOPATHY, botanical medicine, chiropractic, and massage. Although all these methods have been lumped together in the generic category "alternative health care," they differ substantially from each other in philosophy, modality, cost, and other important ways. Although often touted as nontoxic, some herbs or nutritional supplements can have significant toxicities if used in sufficient quantities. Additionally, just as there is no universal language, so no single medical system or tradition—Eastern or Western, ancient or modern, scientific or unscientific—can provide the magic lantern that reveals all the mysteries of the human body. All alternative treatments share one similarity—very little is known about their activity in the human body and their usefulness in treating AIDS, even those that seem beneficial.
In 1992, for the first time in the then eight-year history of the International Conference on AIDS, alternative and traditional indigenous medicines had a prominent place. politically, that year marked a change in the course of the conference toward
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