The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, divides alternative medicine into five areas:

  1. Alternative Medical Systems
    These therapies involve complete systems of health care such as:

    • Ayurveda, which is the 5,000-year-old "science of life" from India and is based on restoration of harmony within the individual's mind, body and spirit through proper diet, exercise, meditation, herbs, massage, and controlled breathing.

    • Homeopathy, which is based on the idea that if a substance in large doses produces the symptoms of an illness, small doses should cure the disorder.

    • Chinese medicine, which emphasizes the appropriate balance of qi (pronounced chi) and includes acupuncture, herbal medicine, oriental massage, and qi gong.

    • Naturopathy, which emphasizes restoring the body's own healing processes through various therapies, including diet, herbal remedies, counseling, acupuncture, and spinal manipulation.

  2. Mind-Body Interventions
    These modalities are intended to assist the mind in helping heal the body's physical functions. Meditation, prayer imagery, hypnosis, dance, music and art therapies are among these practices.

  3. Biological-Based Therapies
    These modalities include herbals, special diet therapies (including the Atkins, Pritikin, and Weil diets), megavitamins, and biological therapies such as shark cartilage, laetrile, and bee pollen.

  4. Manipulative and Body-Based Methods
    These practices include chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage therapy.

  5. Energy Therapies
    Among these modalities are biofield therapies, which focus on energy from within the body, including Reiki, therapeutic touch and qigong, and bioelectromagnetic-based therapies that use energy fields from outside the body.

Learn more about these therapies and more alternative medicine practices.