Mainstream medicine getting along with “Alternative” medicine: what’s your thought?

I’ve been revisiting a 2005 article by Ted J. Kaptchuk, OMD, and Franklin G. Miller about the relationship between mainstream and “alternative” therapies.  (See the full article)  Their viewpoint article poses the question of how the two groups should ethically interact – should they oppose one another (war), integrate (unite “previously sovereign and hostile states”/groups) or acknowledge plurality (create a “coalition of allies”)?


Being a practitioner in the East Asian medicine community, I am biased towards an approach of coalition, because in my daily clinical life, I see the benefits of both medicines in practice.  The necessity of each as stand alone medicines is clear to me, but perhaps it’s not so clear to practitioners of mainstream medicine or patients steeped in the Western healthcare system.  The usefulness of a medical system that approaches health from a different perspective can only be beneficial to everyone, by providing a perspective from a worldview different  from the culturally dominant view.  A culturally alien experience of the world should not be dismissed simply because it does not fit neatly into the dominant culture.

East Asian medicine takes a more functional medicine approach to health, and its strength lies there.  Mainstream medicine has its strengths and limitations.  Should mainstream medicine incorporate other traditional medicines into its system based on judgements that many times cannot be judged on an even footing?  Does the “gold-standard” randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled testing work for acupuncture, or ayurveda, or other “alternative” therapies?  (They don’t)  Does the fact that it doesn’t fit neatly into the mainstream medical model invalidate whole systems of traditional therapies? (It doesn’t – many have been around for sometimes thousands of years-could they exist that long while being useless?).

For those of you who have experienced an alternative health system like East Asian medicine, Ayurveda, Tibetan medicine, etc, what has your experience been?  Since I think most everyone has gotten past the opposition/war point of view, how do you think “alternative” therapies should interact with mainstream medicine?  Should mainstream medicine adapt these systems into the current status quo, or should everyone acknowledge each other as equals, with strengths and weaknesses intact and try to decide how to support one another?

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