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Complementary Versus Alternative
According to a 2012 national survey, many Americans—more than 30 percent of adults and about 12 percent of children—use health care approaches that are not typically part of conventional medical care or that may have origins outside of usual Western practice. When describing these approaches, people often use “alternative” and “complementary” interchangeably, but the two terms refer to different concepts:
- If a non-mainstream approach is used together with conventional medicine, it’s considered “complementary.”
- If a non-mainstream approach is used in place of conventional medicine, it’s considered “alternative.”
Most people who use non-mainstream approaches also use conventional health care.
In addition to the terms complementary and alternative, you may also hear the term “functional medicine.” This term sometimes refers to a concept similar to integrative health (described below), but it may also refer to an approach that more closely resembles naturopathy (a medical system that has evolved from a combination of traditional practices and health care approaches popular in Europe during the 19th century).