Aging Successfully: Alternative versus conventional medicine

  • Wednesday, April 8, 2020 1:30am
  • Opinion
Aging Successfully: Alternative versus conventional medicine

One of the things which make it difficult to understand the difference between alternative and conventional medicine is the many terms and labels used to describe the two. Then, adding to the confusion is a third area of healthcare: integrative medicine.

Conventional medicine has other labels; some are western medicine, bio-medicine and modern medicine. Plus, there are names for the many fields of treatment within conventional medicine such as pediatrics, geriatrics and oncology.

America’s medical history is a tragic tale which includes stories like Europeans arriving in the New World and coming into contact with new diseases like diphtheria and malaria, diseases which their bodies had no immunity for. These stories may be some of reasons conventional medicine’s main focus is on treating the sick patient using scientifically-proven methods.

Alternative medicine also has many different labels such as holistic medicine, natural medicine, and unconventional medicine. Like conventional medicine, alternative healthcare has many fields within it such as acupuncture, Chinese and homeopathic.

It can be confusing when uninformed people insinuate these fields of treatment are a separate discipline of medicine and not under the umbrella of alternative medicine.

One difference between conventional and alternative medicine is conventional medicine focuses on healing the physical body of a sick patient. Alternative medicine’s focus is on the entire person, body and mind, and on ways to keep both healthy.

There is an ancient medical textbook from China which dates back to 200 B.C., written by multiple practitioners. In addition to physical treatments this textbook includes tips on the importance of nutrition, exercise and mental health.

A similarity between the two disciplines is researchers are running the same clinical trials on alternative remedies that they do on newly-developed prescription drugs. One famous clinical trial took place in 1740 when Dr. James Lind, a Scottish surgeon, boarded the HMS Salisbury determined to test whether or not citrus fruit was a cure for scurvy. Lind went on to become a pioneer in naval hygiene.

A third discipline of healthcare is integrative medicine, which is also called complementary medicine. Integrative medicine is a fancy term which means combining conventional and alternative treatments to cure a patient. This approach makes integrative medicine all-inclusive, from chemotherapy to herbal teas.

A very important fact to remember is not every remedy works for every person whether it is alternative or conventional. One example is if I catch a respiratory infection, the steroid prednisone is my “miracle” drug, along with a now archaic antibiotic. Yet I have a good friend who literally became disabled from taking prednisone.

Another example is St. John’s Wort is the go-to herb for relieving depression. However, St. John’s Wort has been known to increase depression in certain individuals.

There is a time and a place for both conventional and alternative medicine. Yes, there are bad providers in both areas, yet most doctors and health care provides are compassionate, caring and committed.

Before consuming any medicines be it prescription drugs, over-the-counter remedies or supplements check with a trusted and licensed health care provider. In addition, do your own research – and always ask as questions. Ask as many as you need to.

In closing, here is a piece of trivia for you. Nathan Smith Davis, the founder and first president of the American Medical Association was prejudiced against women and African-Americans being professionals, especially in the medical field. He created stringent policies and procedures to discourage everyone except affluent white males in becoming doctors.

Feel free to email me at

Crystal Linn is a multi-published author and an award winning poet. When not writing, or teaching workshops, Crystal enjoys reading a good mystery, hiking, and sailing with friends and family.

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