Complementary and alternative medicine fall outside of mainstream health care. And although most people believe these two terms are the same, they’re not. There are many differences.

Complementary medicine refers to treatments used alongside traditional medicine.

Alternative medicine means treatments that are used instead of traditional medicine. These treatments can be risky to patients, which is why many doctors advise against them.

Complementary medicine, on the other hand, is becoming more popular these days because the combination of traditional and non- traditional treatments are proving to be more effective than using traditional methods alone.

Which treatment option is better? Alternative or Complementary?

Most doctors believe that complementary medicine works much better than alternative medicine.

Some doctors agree that complementary medicine, when combined with traditional methods, is much better than using only traditional treatments.

For example, treatments for anxiety, depression, pain, high blood pressure, and heart rate issues have much better outcomes when traditional treatments are combined with complementary therapies like yoga or acupuncture, to name a couple.

Complementary treatments have even been found to help ease certain cancer symptoms.

Complementary medicine is safer and much better than alternative medicine. When complementary medicine is used in conjunction with traditional treatments, the results are much better and complete because it fills in the gaps which traditional methods alone can’t fill.

Alternative medicine frequently uses treatments that are questionable and unproven. Therefore, using alternative medicine can be risky, and the results may not be as effective as traditional treatments.

What are the risks involved in Alternative and Complementary medicines?

All types of medicines and treatments come with a risk. However, the risks involved in complementary medicine is much less than using alternative treatments.

If alternative treatments are used exclusively, there can be potentially life-threatening issues because you might not be getting the appropriate treatment your particular condition requires.

Alternative treatments can trigger many adverse reactions too.

Although complementary medicines may not be as risky as alternative medicine, it may also cause certain adverse reactions depending on the kind of treatment. For instance:

  • Certain dietary supplements can interfere with cancer treatments. For example, they can increase your skin sensitivity, and severe reactions can occur when taken during radiation treatments. Also, certain vitamins and minerals can interfere with how well cancer drugs work.
  • Kava kava – This herb is often used for anxiety treatment. It can lead to liver damage if not used with caution.
  • St. John’s Wort – This herb is used in patients with depression. However, it can decrease the effectiveness of certain cancer medications, antivirals, and immunosuppressants.
  • Vitamin C – Vitamin C is a good antioxidant.  High doses of vitamin C may affect radiation therapy and chemotherapy by reducing the effectiveness of these treatments.
  • Chiropractic treatments – Mild headache can be a common side effect of Chiropractic treatment. Although rare, there have been instances when chiropractic treatments have led to strokes in patients when done on the spine.
  • Herbal products used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine – Some of these treatments may contain heavy metals like arsenic and lead, which can be harmful to your body.


Alternative medicine is used exclusively in place of traditional medicine. Complementary medicine, on the other hand, is always used in combination with traditional treatment.

So, the difference between them is simple to understand.

However, we highly recommend that you discuss these options with your doctor before deciding which treatment you should take for your condition.

Always keep in mind that alternative medicine can be risky and may even be life-threatening.

Complementary medicine will give you more of a complete treatment because it’s being combined with traditional methods.

It’s always best to do thorough research on your condition and treatment options before rushing into treatment whether it is traditional, alternative or complementary.

But, don’t believe everything you read on the Internet and on social media, or what you hear from a friend.

Do your research and get the facts from legitimate and verified sources before moving forward with any kind of medical treatment. It’s your life and health. You deserve the safest and best treatment options that are available!

Photo by Content Pixie on Unsplash

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