Alternative Medicine Labels: Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Osteopathy, Chiropractic, Ayurveda

Alternative Medicine Practitioners

What the Labels Mean

What exactly do these terms mean?  These are the labels for practitioners of alternative medicine. Here is a simple list of terms with their brief definitions.  As always, greater curiosity should lead you to Wikipedia and other sites for a detailed history of each of these – it makes for fascinating reading.


A system of therapy based on the belief that “like heals like.”  The belief is that disease can be treated with drugs (in minute doses) that produce the same symptoms in healthy people as the disease itself.  According to homeopathy, symptoms are the body’s way of fighting disease.  Homeopathy teaches that symptoms are to be encouraged.

Homeopathy was developed by the German physician, Samuel Hahnemann in the late 18th century.  It was further developed and popularized by the American physician James Tyler Kent.  Hahnemann  and his followers approached treatments in a holistic way, meaning that they treated the whole body and spirit, not simply focus on the local disease process.


A system of therapy based on preventive care, on the use of heat, water, light, air, and massage as primary therapies for disease.  Some Naturopaths use no medications of any kind;  some use herbal remedies only; some are licensed to also prescribe medications. Schools of Naturopathic Medicine issue the doctoral degree of Naturopathic Doctor, or ND.

Naturopathy is an American invention, founded at the turn of the 20th century.  By the early 1900’s more than 20 naturopathic medical schools existed, and naturopathic physicians were licensed in some states. In states that do not officially license ND’s, they must practice pursuant to a medical doctor (MD).

As practiced today, naturopathic medicine incorporates traditional natural remedies – herbal remedies, nutrition, homeopathy, acupuncture, traditional Asian medicine, hydrotherapy, and others.  Naturopathic practices are increasingly supported by results from clinical trials supported by NIH.  Bastyr University of Naturopathic Medicine was the first naturopathic institution with research to be funded by NIH.

Overall, naturopathy focuses on the use of nontoxic, natural remedies.  The tenets of Naturopathy seem worthy:

  • First, do no harm
  • Use the healing power of nature, the body’s innate healing power
  • Treat the underlying cause of the disease, not just the symptoms
  • Treat the whole person – holistic health
  • Educate the patient about their health
  • Focus on preventing disease


A system of therapy that emphasizes the role of the musculoskeletal system in health and disease.  Osteopathy began in the United States in 1874; the term “osteopathy” was coined by Andrew Taylor Still.  Still founded the American School of Osteopathy in Missouri in 1892.  The state of Missouri offered to allow his school to grant the MD degree, but Still insisted on retaining the DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) degree.

Osteopaths combine the ability to prescribe medications with manipulative medicine.  The goal is resolution of somatic dysfunction in an attempt to aid the body’s own recuperative ability.  This involves manual treatment, or manipulation, of the musculoskeletal system.  Throughout the 20th century however, osteopathy in the United States has moved closer to mainstream medicine in its practice.  Recent surveys reveal that the majority of Doctors of Osteopathic medicine (DO’s) practice medicine without manual manipulation.

Osteopathy is practiced around the world, including the entire European Union, Israel, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.


Chiropractic is a system of healthcare that focuses on diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine.  The underlying tenet is that disorders of the spine affect overall health through the nervous system.  The principal therapy involves manual manipulation of the spine and joints.

Chiropractic was founded in the United States in the late 1890’s by D. Palmer, and was further developed into the 20th century by his son.  Chiropractors faced heavy opposition by organized, conventional medicine in the US.  Thousands of chiropractors were prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license, some were jailed.  Persecution continued until a landmark legal case against the American Medical Association (Wilk v AMA) that found that the the AMA had engaged in restraint of trade.

Whereas Chiropractic has gradually gained acceptance and legitimacy over the last couple decades, the growth of evidence-based medicine poses a challenge to practices that have little research to back up their methods.  Further, competition has grown from other alternative medicine practitioners.  As a result, many Chiropractors have supplemented their chiropractic practices with their own, unique alternative medicine methods.


Or Ayurvedic medicine is a system of traditional medicine native to the Indian subcontinent.   Historically, the development of Ayurveda was influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism.  It is now practiced in the rest of the world as a form of alternative or complementary medicine.  Translation from Sanskrit, Ayurveda means life science or life knowledge.  Ayurvedic medicine includes the use of herbal remedies, massage, dietary routines, and yoga.

As with Naturopathy, Homeopathy, and Chiropractic, the safety and efficacy of many of the postulates of Ayurveda have yet to be proven through clinical trials.  NIH, through its National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, currently funds ongoing research into Ayurvedic practices.

Conventional Medicine

Conventional, or “Western” medicine, was labeled “Allopathy” by Hahnemann in the 18th century.  As you see above, he coined the term Homeopathy.  He meant the term Allopathy in a pejorative or derogatory way, implying that Homeopathy was superior to Allopathy.  Due to this history, the term “allopathic medicine” can be unpopular with conventional medical doctors (MD’s).

We all recognize conventional medicine here in this country as the practice of medicine that is most widely practiced.  We also all recognize that there are many limitations and challenges with the modern conventional practice of medicine, from crazy costs, to “cures” that are worse than the disease, and many of us are painfully familiar with the specialist who treats only the disease but fails to care for the patient as a whole person.

As people have become more familiar with the limitations of “conventional medicine,” we have turned to alternatives.  Many of these are listed above.  It has been estimated that upwards of 60% of us now see a practitioner who practices some form of alternative medicine, from Ayurveda to Chiropractic and beyond.


It is an unfortunate human trait that the practitioners of these various medical philosophies consider their own superior to the others; the term is “ethnocentric,” or “egocentric.”  Moreover, many look on the other systems of therapy with disdain, with contempt, and can be dismissive of patients who mention having seen a practitioner of another philosophy.

How many of us have seen our doctor roll their eyes when we mention seeing a Chiropractor, or mention taking an herbal remedy, or that we are using some other alternative therapy?

Some of us (physicians) are fortunate enough to evolve.  Me?  I’m still an alternative Neanderthal, but I am slowly evolving, slowly integrating.


Look around: As the practice of medicine evolves into the 21st century, the healthiest patients are being cared for by practitioners who integrate the best of these philosophies, who integrate effective remedies regardless of their labels.

These practitioners have been around for years, perhaps decades, but as patients take greater ownership of their health, these practitioners are in greater and greater demand.  As it should be.

It is these practitioners who are my role models.  Whereas I may stumble in my attempts, I aspire to bring to my own medical practice the best of “conventional” and “alternative” medicine, to bring my patients to their very best possible health.

  • To prevent disease
  • To eliminate disease
  • To maintain health
  • To control disease when necessary
  • To care for the whole person
  • To educate the patient, to empower them in their healthcare decisions

So, what pathway to health does YOUR healer follow?  Please share your experiences below.

I know, I haven’t mentioned many other healing philosophies, traditional Chinese Medicine for example.  Perhaps I’ll devote an entire post to that some time …

To download a free PDF file of this article, go to the download page here:

Thanks for visiting, and see you here again.  I appreciate your comments and questions.  Keep ‘em coming.  Please, “be excellent to one another.”

Best of health and success to you and your families.

Until next time, remember … you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose (unless you’re a boogor doctor :~D)

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I promise to continue to work hard to provide content that will improve your health and the health of your children. RF

Credit: The image of Chinese medicine bottles from


  1. ultrasound technician says:

    What a great resource!

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Dear Ultrasound Tech,
      Thank you so much for visiting, and for your flattering comment.
      Please continue to visit, and I will continue to work hard to building this resource!

  2. stephanie gale says:

    Answer to “What are YOU using to do Saline Rinses?”
    x Other: When the benzalkonium chloride and preservatives in the squeeze bottle of saline were irritating my sinuses, I looked for an alternative. Found ‘Simply Saline’ brand sterile saline in a convenient spray can – with no preservatives and a great , easy spray delivery. Now use nothing else.
    Like your blog Doc! Thanks for the comprehensive yet concise info.

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Stephanie,
      Thanks for taking the time to visit, and especially to leave a comment! This helps all of us.
      First, I agree with you: benzalkonium chloride or other preservatives should be avoided. The saline system that I use personally for myself and my own children has no BC or other preservatives (Nasopure). Perhaps that’s why it is so comfortable to use. It burns much less than others I have used. I have also used the ‘Simply Saline’ that you are using. For me, I have been avoiding anything in cans, due to the common use of BPA to line cans. The squeeze bottles in the Nasopure system are BPA-free. (For complete transparency: I have NO financial affiliation with Nasopure.)
      And again, thank you so much for your kind comment about this blog. Please continue to visit and to contribute! We ALL appreciate it!

  3. Richard Friedel says:

    The practitioner’s guide to simple and safe asthma healing.
    Step one: massage of the patient’s face between upper lip and nose (philtrum) to feel the relaxation of lung airways by reflex arc.
    Step two: the patient does this himself or herself to coordinate easing of lung airways with massaging or just stroking this area of the face.
    Step three: determined and slow sniffing to get the same relaxed feeling owing to pressing of lips.
    Step four: breathing retraining on this basis.

  4. Thank you for these amazing definitions! I have often wondered what the differences are and if alternative doctors were actually licensed. Do you have any suggestions on finding these kinds of doctors, or ones that are open to other thoughts? All I can seem to find are chiropractors and traditional MDs

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Hi Caitlin,
      Thank you for your kind comments.
      My suggestion for finding a more “holistic” doc — and note that many MD’s are integrative in their treatment philosophies (you don’t necessarily need a naturopath or other “alternative” clinician) — is to search “aihm find a doctor.” You can also search “aihm diplomates” or “abihm diplomates” to see a list of doctors who are board-certified for Integrative Holistic Medicine. These searches should take you to the website for finding docs. AIHM is Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine. ABIHM is American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine.
      The docs that you find in this way will have special training in evidence-based remedies that are effective alternatives to yet-another prescription for pharmaceuticals. That doesn’t mean they never prescribe medicines; it simply means that they have many more tools are their disposal to help you.
      Thank you for visiting and sharing.
      Best success!

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