Updated 19 May 2014

Alternative medical systems

Do you know the difference between Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese medicine, Environmental medicine, Holistic medicine, Homeopathic medicine and Naturopathic medicine? Learn more here.


People often think of alternative medicine as one thing. Many mistakenly think that holistic medicine incorporates naturopathy and homeopathy.

But there are a number of distinctive alternative medical systems that have their own properties, treatments and remedies. These include:

Ayurvedic medicine:
Ayurveda is an ancient holistic Indian form of medicine and healing that is based on the premise that everything in the universe is made up of three basic forces or doshas, namely Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (earth). When these three forces are in harmony within a person, that person will be healthy.

To alleviate distress-causing imbalances in the doshas, Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe different types of exercise, massage, diets, meditation and fragrant oils for different people, according to their specific imbalance or inate disposition.

Chinese medicine:
Today's Chinese medicine is based on the ancient Chinese belief that the whole universe was born out of the marriage of two polar principles, Yin and Yang. That is why the world today consists of polar opposites: day and night, hot and cold, winter and summer, wet and dry, body and mind etc.

In Chinese medicine, each person is seen as the world in miniature so that when these opposites are in harmony within a person, good health results. An imbalance of yin and yang within the person causes disease that can be treated by restoring that balance. Western medicine sees disease as an external factor or a result of the body's natural degeneration.

Environmental medicine:
This therapy is based on the idea that the quality of factors in our environment, such as foods, chemicals, water and air affect our health and our lives. Treatments used include immunotherapy and environmental control.

Holistic medicine:
In holistic medicine illness is seen as an outward expression of a dysfunction in the whole person, not as an isolated event. Therefore holistic practitioners don't only treat the symptoms instead they search for the underlying causes of disease and emphasise prevention.

Practitioners look at all aspects of a patient including the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects. They then educate the patient on how to make lifestyle changes and how to treat themselves and they also employ complementary alternatives and conventional drugs and surgery.

Homeopathic medicine:
Homeopathy is a scientific system of healing that believes in the body's natural power to heal itself. It therefore treats disease by stimulating the body's own immune system with highly diluted doses of medicine. Homeopaths believe that all symptoms of illness are outer expressions of disharmony within the whole person and therefore it is the patient who needs treatment and not the disease.

Naturopathic medicine:
Naturopaths work with the healing power of nature and use a combination of approaches, including oriental, botanical, physical and homeopathic means to help the body heal itself.

The practice of naturopathic medicine emerges from six underlying principles of healing: the healing power of nature, identify and treat the cause, first do no harm, treat the whole person, the physician as teacher and prevention is the best "cure".

- (Ingrid Bosch, Health24, updated June 2010)


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