Complementary Health Approaches

Other Complementary Health 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, complex medical systems such as Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, as well as homeopathy and naturopathy.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has evolved over thousands of years, and includes both herbal products and mind and body practices. (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)
  • cupping (inducing suction at the parts of the body being treated)
  • 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).

There has been substantial research on certain specific TCM practices, such as acupuncture and tai chi. However, TCM as a whole is difficult for researchers to study because it is complex and individualized 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 the “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.

A 2015 comprehensive assessment by the Australian government’s National Health and Medical Research Council concluded that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.


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. Naturopathic practitioners use many different treatment approaches, such as dietary and lifestyle changes, stress reduction, herbs and other dietary supplements, homeopathy, manipulative therapies, exercise therapy, practitioner-guided detoxification, and psychotherapy and counseling.

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.