Complementary Health Approaches

Other Complementary Approaches

In addition to natural products and mind and body practices, there are other complementary approaches, some of which involve combinations of different techniques. For example, the practices of traditional healers can be considered complementary health approaches. So can complex medical systems, such as Ayurvedic medicine from India and traditional Chinese medicine, as well as systems such as homeopathy and naturopathy.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) originated in ancient China. It is rooted in the ancient philosophy of Taoism and dates back more than 2,500 years. TCM encompasses many different practices, including acupuncture, moxibustion (burning an herb above the skin to apply heat to acupuncture points), Chinese herbal medicine, tui na (Chinese therapeutic massage), dietary therapy, and tai chi and qi gong (practices that combine specific movements or postures, coordinated breathing, and mental focus).

Although there has been substantial research on certain specific TCM practices, such as acupuncture and tai chi, the scientific evidence on TCM as a whole is limited. TCM is difficult for researchers to study because it is complex and because it is based on ideas very different from those of modern Western medicine.

Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurveda (pronounced “i-yer-VAY-duh”) -- also called Ayurvedic medicine --originated in India more than 3,000 years ago and remains one of that country’s traditional health care systems. It involves individualized treatments, which may include compounds of herbs or proprietary ingredients, as well as diet, exercise, and lifestyle recommendations.

Research studies have examined Ayurvedic treatments for specific health problems. However, many of these studies included only a few people or did not use rigorous research methods. There hasn’t been enough high-quality research to show whether Ayurvedic treatments are beneficial.


Homeopathy was developed in Germany more than 200 years ago. It is based on two unconventional ideas: “like cures like” --the notion that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people; and “law of minimum dose” -- the notion that the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness. Homeopathic remedies are derived from substances that come from plants, minerals, or animals. They are often formulated as sugar pellets to be placed under the tongue. They may also be in other forms, such as ointments, gels, drops, creams, and tablets.

Homeopathy is a controversial topic in complementary medicine research. A number of the key ideas of homeopathy are not consistent with fundamental concepts of chemistry and physics. There is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition.


Naturopathy -- also called naturopathic medicine --is a medical system that evolved from a combination of traditional practices and health care approaches popular in Europe during the 19th century. A central belief in naturopathy is that nature has a healing power. Practitioners view their role as working with patients to prevent and treat illness, restore health, and establish optimal fitness by supporting the person’s inherent self-healing process. They prefer to use treatment approaches that involve the least possible force or intervention.

Naturopathic practitioners use many different treatments, including nutrition counseling, dietary supplements, herbal medicines, massage, joint manipulation, exercise therapy, and lifestyle counseling. Although some of the individual approaches used in naturopathy have been studied for safety and effectiveness, naturopathy as a general approach to health care has not been widely researched.