It seems alternative medicine is sweeping the country. Newspapers, magazines, books, TV -- it's starting to look like a fad. But the truth is, alternative medical treatments have been around in this country for centuries and promise to be with us for as long as people need healing.

There are traditions that go back millennia, and there are relatively new schools of thought based on recent discoveries. Some are still the primary health care systems in their native lands, and some have struggled to be recognized throughout their existence. The one thing they have in common, though, is that in this country, they have been relegated to the margins of medicine.

To understand what alternative medicine is, you have to know what it's an alternative to. In the United States, the medical establishment consists of a system of medical schools, hospitals, and M.D.s that many would call traditional medicine. But there is really nothing traditional about it. In fact, traditional medicine would be a better description of many of the alternative therapies in this article -- time-honored beliefs and practices relied on for generations.

Perhaps a better name for alternative medicine would be “traditional medicine.
Perhaps a better name for alternative medicine would be “traditional medicine”
because some of its practices have been around for centuries.

Conventional would be a better word to describe modern Western medicine, often called allopathic medicine. It is predominant in most of the Western world because it is the convention, the mode of thinking that is currently in vogue. That is not to say that allopathic medicine is just a fad. It is a valuable resource for health and healing, but it is not the only one. It is one system among many.

All of this may seem like a pointless discussion of words -- allopathic, alternative, conventional, traditional -- but the way we talk about them can mean a great deal. People's access to health care options -- and even who will pay for what -- depends on what people say about different modes of therapy.

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However, more and more, patients, insurance companies, and even conventional doctors are recognizing the value of alternative therapies. Meditation managing high blood pressure without drugs, biofeedback treating bowel disorders without surgery, and mind/body medicine giving hope and quality of life to the terminally ill are just a few examples of the benefits of alternative medicine that conventional medicine simply cannot offer.

Nothing can replace a well-informed health care consumer, and no one knows this better than doctors and practitioners. Knowing your options is part of being well informed, but so is communicating with your practitioner effectively. In the pages that follow, you will dozens of articles describing how to treat various conditions with alternative medicine.  Use these articles to access information and practitioners; use it to discuss options with your health care provider; share it with family and friends who might be looking for alternatives. Become well-informed and turn that power into good health. Let's get started on the next page with an examination of alternative medicines for women's health issues.