Here's an overview of the major differences between these two schools of thought and the advantages to alternative and natural medicine practices.
While both conventional (also referred to as Western or allopathic medicine) and alternative medicine are based on science, conventional physicians do not have a background in natural plant medicines, or other alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, aromatherapy or therapeutic massage. Conventional medicine approaches illness from a symptom based perspective and manages treatment mainly with pharmaceutical (prescription and OTC) medicines. Allopathic physicians are not well-versed in nutrition. While they are certainly familiar with the idea that good nutrition plays a large role in everyone's general level of health, they seldom prescribe nutrients as a treatment.
Alternative medicine regards symptoms as a manifestation of the root cause of disease, resulting from an imbalance or deficiency within the entire body system. The naturopathic physician takes a whole body, also known as holistic, approach to the treatment of disease, drawing from an array of natural treatments and nutritional therapies to get all of the body systems in optimum health, thus treating the root cause of the condition. The alternative physician seldom prescribes pharmaceuticals.
Both conventional and alternative medicine bring results. However, conventional medicine treats the symptom and not necessarily the cause. Pharmaceuticals may be used to reduce high blood pressure, for example. One problem is that the prescribed medication is suppressing the symptom, but not fixing the root cause. Another problem arises when potential side effects of the medication produce yet another problem.
Some people feel safer taking a pharmaceutical, believing that these substances must be far more sophisticated and effective than a simple plant or nutritional supplement. Relative value, as with any product, is often largely dependent on its cost. We can all attest that prescription medicines are certainly not cheap! This higher-cost-equals-better logic can be refuted, as in the following example.
Let's say you have pneumonia. Your doctor prescribes an antibiotic. Assuming it works (the doctor may have to switch you to another during the course of treatment), it does such a thorough job, it kills off all bacteria, good and bad alike. This negatively impacts your natural immune response. By the time you've finished off the prescription, you feel like you've been run over by a truck. If you're a woman, you usually finish off the illness with a yeast infection!
Alternative medicine would use a natural respiratory antibiotic, such as elecampane root, adding a measure of pleurisy root, as the treatment. This combination will eradicate even a severe case of pneumonia, in less time than required with the pharmaceutical antibiotic. Other differences between the conventional and alternative medicine strategy include no side effects, no yeast infection and a thorough restoration of respiratory function. Elecampane not only kills the pneumonia, but has a tonic action on the entire respiratory system. You're in better health at the end of treatment.
Alternative medicine won't fill the bill if you've got a broken leg. It needs to be set and you'll need some serious pain meds for a few days. However, for most chronic health conditions, alternative medicine offers solutions that can frequently reverse illness and help you regain your health. Then, you don't need the meds!