The differences between modern (or conventional, western) medicine and alternative (or nonconventional) medicine often lead to animated debates amongst friends. On the one hand, the advocates of modern medicine may argue that it is the only scientific approach. On the other hand, advocates of alternative medicine may say that modern medicine is profit-driven by big pharmaceuticals. Often, the stand that people take on the matter reflects more their general beliefs and idiosyncrasies than their knowledge or experience. More skeptical ones will be prone to rely more on modern medicine as they regard it more scientific. The more progressive or trusting may incline towards alternative medicine. We will try to see what is what and help you better understand the options that you have in seeking the best solutions for your health!

Modern medicine

The achievements of modern medicine during the last decades are striking. Advances in medical treatment and prescription medicines are to be accounted for tackling severe diseases, increasing life expectancy, avoiding disability and improving the quality of life. However, even though modern medicine offers solutions for the most critical conditions, it fails to answer some of the ailments that are related to the contemporary lifestyle. Indeed, all around us, we see people suffer from physical and mental health problems that are mostly associated with their lifestyle: eating disorders, deprivation of sleep, chronic pain, stress, depression, to name a few. Medical practitioners also seem to suffer the same diseases, and this increases the skepticism towards them.

Another drawback of modern medicine is that it is highly specialized. Each specialization examines in depth a subsystem of human physiology, looking at the tree rather than the forest. The problem is that when something is off, more often than not, the root cause may be elsewhere in the body. The practitioner will provide the patient with the best medicine to relieve his pain. As the drug targets the symptoms and not the root cause, the solution will be either temporary or, even worse, will mask the real problem.

On the positive side, medical practitioners have undergone long years of studies, including studies on general physiology, and have some solid basis on how the human body works. The same does not apply to all alternative practitioners. Furthermore, some medical practitioners have caught up with the trend and are open to alternative solutions if they consider them beneficial to some patients.

Alternative medicine

Alternative medicine covers many different practices. They range from traditional, like Ayurveda, acupuncture, shiatsu or hypnotism, to more recent, like chiropractic, homeopathy, reiki and naturopathy. Even though these practices differ significantly between them, we will try to focus on some common ground and basic principles they share. Firstly, they tend to take a more holistic point of view and also consider the patient’s emotional, intellectual, spiritual dimensions, and lifestyle. The holistic approach is undoubtedly a great advantage, as a majority of ailments are due to psychological or different stressors related to the modern lifestyle. Secondly, in many cases, the initial and follow up sessions between the practitioner and the patient last longer than with medical practitioners. The longer sessions allow the practitioner to take a comprehensive history from the patient. They also help the creation of a stronger bond between them.

While there is no reliable research for the present time to support the efficacy of alternative medicine, many patients report improvement from these treatments. The fact that there may be an element of naivety behind the faith in some alternative therapies is not necessarily a bad thing. Belief in a specific treatment may also act as a “placebo”. Even though the term placebo has a negative connotation, it is desirable as it can lead to a significant improvement of health. It acts by triggering the capacity of the body to self-heal without taking any toxic drugs. However, there is a high risk if a patient invests his health blindly in some form of alternative therapy and abandons any contact with his medical doctor. He may miss out on a severe disease and compromise his health.

So, what to do?

No division holds the holy grail. The best thing you can do is to choose your primary care doctor wisely. He should be someone that has solid medical studies, and therefore has a deep comprehension of how the body works. He should also be alert on new advancements and open to alternative therapies. Thus, he will be able to guide you to the best treatments for your ailments, no matter where they fall on the spectrum. It is also essential to choose someone you trust and feel comfortable discussing any questions you may have on alternative therapies. If you consider trying an alternative treatment, you should consult with him first, especially if you have a chronic medical condition, have undergone surgery, are pregnant or nursing.

Some more thoughts

There are not enough scientific studies for the present time on alternative treatments, so it is unfortunately hard to evaluate their efficiency and risks. The lack of proof does not mean a specific cure is not valid, but it makes it much harder to have a clear picture of what works. The main reason for the lack of scientific results is that long-time studies are hard to implement and expensive. However, many established health institutions have started including some alternative therapies as complementary to conventional medical treatments. Hopefully, the growing acceptance of some nonconventional therapies will lead to more research.

You should continue conventional treatment, especially if you suffer from some severe condition. Don’t change your conventional treatment or prescribed medicine without consulting your doctor. It’s great to include nonconventional therapies that enhance your health. However, they must be considered as complementary and should not replace conventional medicine altogether. Maintain your regular medical checks to diagnose any health issues.

There are some new approaches, like Integrative medicine, that try to combine the best practices of both traditional western medicine and alternative medicine. If you are interested, you can check out Integrative Medicine Relié – from David Rakel MD. Once we have more reliable research, modern and alternative medicine will fuse more.

No matter how you choose to proceed with your quest for health, there are some simple things you can do to promote your health drastically. These include changes in your nutrition, exercise and stress reduction techniques. Implementing some simple changes may go a long way in improving your health!

Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions about modern and alternative medicine. I know this is a difficult topic to abord, and I would love to have your feedback and comments!

27 thoughts on “Modern Medicine vs Alternative Medicine

  1. Manuel Aguiar

    Hi, this subject is a common discussion among my friends, I hold a position right in the middle, I totally agree that “modern medicine” treats in most of the cases the symptoms instead of taking care of the real problem and the specialization is a good thing as long as they watch the general picture. on the other hand, trusting blindly into “alternative medicine” is completely foolish, is an excellent choice to be treated in a non-invasive way, but always under the opinion of an expert to keep track of these improvements. Thanks for this article and for sharing that point of view.

  2. Benjamin

    i honestly believe that modern medicine is better. Prescription medicines and advances in medical treatment have helped people avoid disability and death caused by disease. it has also lowered overall treatment costs, and it has definitely lowered death rates for heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other deadly diseases for several decades. should we now rely on native medicine?

  3. drinkteahub

    An excellent and very balanced review of modern and alternative medicine. I prefer to see alternative medicine as “complementary medicine” in that it shouldn’t replace modern, conventional medicine, but for certain conditions can do something useful such as promoting restful sleep or helping to combat the side-effects of conventional medicine. I think “integrative medicine” as you’ve mentioned here is definitely the way to go.

  4. marcuscbb

    Hi I would like to thankyou on this informative post about modern medicine verses alternative medicine and from what I read I believe both have their pros and cons. I have met people who believe in either modern or alternative medicine and they very bias on the type they believe but I think the best part of this article was the way you ended with prevention by leading a healthy lifestyle.

  5. JonLYF

    Wow. It opens my eyes to see the differences between modern medicine vs alternative medicine. I never knew that Chiropractic is considered an alternative treatment. I always get a Chiropractor to fix my back pain and it works. Before that, if I am only visiting the normal clinics, all they give me is just medicine and a pain killer which doesn’t fix my back at all. Thanks for your article, it is very informative.

    1. Elef

      Thank you JonLYF. I have also suffered many years from chronic back pain and have taken too many prescription medicines… Chiropractic has helped me a lot. If combined with exercise and posture alignment the results can last. For me what has worked best is yoga and some targeted exercises that reinforce the back and help to fix the posture.

  6. Dan Sicat

    I think people believe more on conventional medicine. Some resorts to alternative medicine when they cannot or do not see any signs of improvement even if taking the prescribed drugs daily. I came across few articles in the internet that there are research that proves some alternative medicine may have scientific basis although there are always disclaimer. In my case I really do not depend on conventional nor alternative medicine. I found it effective to watch what we feed into our body and be health-conscious. 

    1. Elef

      Thank you Dan, for your comment. I agree, being conscious of your health and how you feel are very important. And, of course, so is our nutrition

  7. Joy gateru

    great article, personally i am brought up from local areas and i am very aware of both the Modern medicines and the alternative medicines, while i was growing up my parents never went to purchase modern medicines for minor illness instead, they use some transnational medicines of which they really worked well and quite fast compared to the modern medicines, the issue was about prescription as many diseases could be prescribed by a single medicine thus sometimes i had doubt on them. most of all i like the alternative medication as most of the are just natural, Thank you for sharing such a wonderful post to the public.

    1. Elef

      Thank you Joy gateru, for commenting on this post. I am also inclined towards alternative solutions for minor illnesses. I believe that alternative medicine and a better lifestyle can help a lot in promoting health and preventing disease!

  8. Akshay

    It is a very relevant post. My dad is a homeopathic doctor and my sister has a modern medical degree. And, I believe that we all are doctors of ourselves, almost every time we already know the best remedy for us. 

    I totally resonate with your thoughts. You have provided in-depth detail and compared both types of medicines very well. 

    Modern or alternative, we must be responsible for our own health; nothing beats regular exercising, a healthy diet and proper maintenance of our health, as you said.

  9. Sipheni

    I tend to think both the modern and the alternative medicines are as equally important, and the choices as to which one to use usually depends on the magnitude of an illness. I learned some new perspectives from your article. You know, one type of medicine I fail to understand how it works is hypnotism. I see you classified it under alternative medicines. Isn’t it somehow linked to scientific/modern practices?

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Elef

      Hello Sipheni, thank you for your comment. During hypnosis, the patient, guided by the hypnotist, enters a state called hypnotic trance. When the patient reaches this state of deep relaxation, he is offered suggestions that can provoke changes in his behavior or relieve him from pain. It can be thought of as complementary to modern medicine and is used to help patients lose weight, stop smoking, reduce stress or build confidence amongst others.

  10. Marketa

    Hi and thanks for your informative article.

    Alternative medicine is very controversial here in Australia and although the health benefits are certainly well documented, they are not necessarily based on science. 

    In our country, those who have private health insurance may opt for what we call ‘optional extras’ which extend to various forms of alternative medicine. 

    You mention the fact that modern medicine is highly specialised. Indeed this may be a positive aspect as well as negative. Also, modern medicines may be more likely to cure of at least help the patient than their alternative counterparts but when required in regular doses can lose their efficacy 

  11. Dave Sweney

    This subject, modern medicine versus alternative medicine, is one that is near and dear to me for a number of reasons. Modern medicine has made advances that are wonderous and great, but there is a general disdain for alternative medicines I have found when using the system. Doctors seem to want to point you to what can be expensive therapies that are questionable as to their efficacy. 

    I have skin cancer, and they have recommended a number of things like chemotherapy and radiation but to date, I have only gone with the least invasive suggestions. Rather I have used some alternative medicines and procedures that are less disruptive and seem to be working well.

    It does make sense to continue with the conventional treatments if they are ones I can live with. I have done surgeries and topical creams, etc. that the Doctors are prescribing. The harsher ones I have declined as it appears that they are as bad as cancer that I am trying to beat. I think a lot of thought has to go into what courses of action you want to take, and for me, this is working so far. It most certainly is debatable and not a subject all can agree on.  Thanks for this interesting read!

    1. Elef

      Thank you Dave for your comment, I am glad that you found this article interesting. I am sorry to hear about your health. I wish you all the best in beating your illness and recovering. 

  12. Katja

    I always like to read articles which debate between conventional medicine and alternative medicine. I would say for myself that I am a supporter of both. I believe we can ‘’get the best of both worlds’’, if we do our research properly, and listen to our body.

    I am happy that conventional medicine started to incorporate some alternative practices too. This way we can also expect more studies to support or reject the efficacy of alternative medicine. At the end of the day, healing sickness is main priority, so making sure all resources and practices that can help are being used is the way to go. 

  13. Cathy

    Having come from modern medical training, I can’t help being biased to state that it has contributed a lot to health advancement amongst patients. Many conditions were cured because of it and many more depends on it to prolong life expectancy. Yet, I’ve also seen my fair share when modern medicine fails, alternative comes in and was able to make a patient thrive better. I don’t think it’s the matter of right or wrong – I just think that it’s a case-by-case scenario and the way people gravitate towards different treatment that works for them.

    1. Elef

      Hi Cathy, thank you for your comments and feedback.

  14. Christine

    I think that in some cases modern medicine is necessary to treat certain ailments, and for other things alternative medicine is much better. It all depends. I like alternative medicine and it has helped me. Right now I am undergoing a treatment, prescribed by my doctor (so pills, modern medicine), and they are working wonderfully, but in this case they are very necessary. For what has happened to me I now need that prescription from the traditional doctor. 

    About twenty years ago I had an accident, a jet ski fell on my leg in the water. Jet skis weigh tons and a small part of my calf was smashed in, it looked like a crater covered by my skin. I also had no feeling there, I could touch it and it felt like somebody else’s leg, all my nerves were dead. For sixteen years that part of my leg was practically dead … No doctor could ever help me with that. So, sixteen years after that accident I tried acupuncture, and I got an acupuncture treatment for several weeks. Feeling came back to my skin, the “crater” is not so deep anymore and hardly noticeable, and now my calf feels normal again.

    I do agree that you must choose your primary health doctor wisely. You should feel comfortable and confident with him/her.

    1. Elef

      Hello Christine. Your story is fascinating. It is wonderful to learn how the body can respond to different treatments and I am glad acupuncture worked for you… Thanks for sharing it with us!

  15. Nathaniel

    Hi Elef – This is a great topic for discussion.  I like to entertain both approaches.  I like the alternative approach for prevention and perhaps initial treatment of a condition.  However, if after close monitoring the progress isn’t satisfactory I would go with the conventional.  The concern I have with conventional medicine is even though it has made great progress in treating diseases, the side effects can be damaging and lead to even more ailments and medications.  Because of that, I like to try the natural –alternative approach first.  Thanks for this opportunity!

  16. JealousLi

    Indeed, alternative medicine and modern medicine differ greatly in analysis and treatment, etc. Modern medicine does have a certain scientific theoretical foundation, focusing on solving immediate problems and paying more attention to the curative effect on current symptoms. However, it is often prone to cause other problems to solve this problem. Alternative medicine focuses on finding the root of the problem from a holistic perspective. However, alternative medicine lacks a certain scientific theory, which is why some people are not optimistic about it.

  17. Edgar Ahimbe

    It is hard to eliminate sickness from the body completely and that is why we have to rely on medicine to keep healthy.
    Your informative post brings up the never-ending debate between promoters of modern medicine and those of alternative medicine. 

    My view is that both types of medicine can be used together to fight many ailments. Modern medicine increases life expectancy as alternative medicine addresses lifestyle health problems thus my advocacy for Integrative medicine.
    It is a great topic you have shared and you present the facts very well. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Michel

    Many people I know swear by alternative medicine, but I guess the proof is in the pudding and modern medicine, although not always the most healthy choice with all the side effects that come with it, sometimes heals where nothing else helps.

    I reckon it depends on the severity of the disease. If it is a minor ailment like a cold, alternative remedies can work wonders and you may not even need antibiotics, but when it comes to more serious conditions, its best to let your doctor do his work with his modern medicine.

    1. Elef

      Thank you Michel for your comment

  19. Rodarrick

    It is true that some part of modern medicine has covered a lot of more than all the sicknesses in the world. But I must say that the best way to go about this is to figure out a doctor that has balanced knowledge in the two areas of medicine. They are both effective however, I believe in the matter of choices and selections. Hence, I wouldn’t chip in ideas that much concerning the best to go for

Leave a Comment