Alternative vs. Integrative—Are They Different?

Your guide to what's what among nontraditional health approaches.

Herbs, meditation, acupuncture…nearly 40% of Americans use some type of nontraditional health approach.
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Q: Is there a difference between alternative, complementary, and integrative medicine?

OZ Says: Yes, but it's subtle, so people tend to use these words interchangeably—and incorrectly. Your guide to what's what:

Alternative Medicine: Any type of nonmainstream therapy or medication used in place of conventional Western treatment. For example: Acupuncture may be used instead of a prescription pain med for, say, chronic migraines, or in place of hormone therapy for menopause symptoms.

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Complementary Medicine: Nontraditional treatments that are used in tandem with—not in place of—conventional Western medicine therapies. For example: A cancer patient gets acupuncture to alleviate the nausea caused by chemotherapy.

Integrative Medicine (IM): A comprehensive plan that combines approaches (both Western and non-Western) to care for a patient's overall well-being—body, mind, and spirit. IM plans are generally designed to help the body prevent illness or heal itself. For example: At the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine, for instance, practitioners use a range of therapies, from Chinese herbs and acupuncture to traditional Western medicine.

This story originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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