The Differences Between Complementary Medicine and Alternative Medicine

Complementary and alternative medicines are those treatments that are explicitly used for medical intervention, disease prevention or health promotion. This is a category of medicine that includes a wide range of approach for treating problems that falls well outside the scope of conventional medicine.

These practices are becoming very popular and doctors are embracing such treatments and combining them with mainstream conventional methods. Usually complementary and alternative medicines are combined together but they are in fact distinct from each other.

differences between complementary medicine and alternative medicine

Difference Between Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Basic Difference

Many people use the term use the term complementary medicine and alternative medicine as if they are similar to each other but there is an important difference between their application.

  • Complementary practices work in conjunction with conventional medicine for better results. These techniques amplify the result of traditional medicine.
  • Alternative medicine on the other hand works as a substitute for conventional treatment.

Difference in Practice

  • Complementary medicines involve wide range of practices and techniques like massage therapy, acupuncture, yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques that works wonder with help of convention treatment.
  • Alternative procedures have their own theory and technique and do not require the support of traditional medicine. These practices are independent and date back earlier than the traditional medicine that we use today. The best examples of alternative medicine include naturopathic medicine, homeopathic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine.


Though complementary and alternative medicines have many benefits but they also have its limitations.

  • Complementary medicine gives best result when combined with traditional methods. But sometimes they interfere with the traditional medicine and may cause side effects. For example certain herbal medicines can limit the effect of some prescription drug like antidepressant and birth control pills.
  • Alternative medicine has its own separate procedure and although most of the times they provide with favourable results in some cases they don’t work. Like in the case of a bacterial infection these methods have not give desirable results as traditional treatment with anti-biotics.

Complementary and alternative treatments are effective, but may not help with all types of problems. Certain medicines can only be used to treat certain problems, so if you want to try complementary and alternative medicines make sure to consult with an expert practitioner.

Difference in Usage

  • Complementary medicine can be used alongside traditional medicine. It may help the patient to feel better and cope up with the disease. These types of medicines complement the effects of conventional medicines.
  • Alternative medicine is used as a substitute for traditional medical treatment. This type of medicine has shown favourable results but in many cases like in cancer alternative medication has not yet shown any medical or scientific evidence of cure. In some case alternative medicine increase the risk of harmful side effects.

Both complementary and alternative medicines have their own advantages and limitations but they do promote a more healthy way of treatment. For this reason doctors are also taking into consideration the usage of such techniques and medicines.