Health careWellness

Holistic Medicine vs. Western Medicine: What You Should Know In 2019

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The age of going organic and plethora of information on toxic GMOs has steered many away from traditional western medicine and more towards non-conventional, eastern and alternative medicine practices. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and naturopathy has become more and more common in America, with nearly one third of Americans using these practices in 2015. Its growing popularity over the years has driven medical professionals to grow concern over its efficacy. The main question still lingering in people’s minds- is it safe?

What does it mean to be a Holistic Practitioner?

A holistic healthcare practitioner takes into consideration a person’s whole self- including physical, emotional and mental well-being- when addressing health concerns or promoting overall wellness. Holistic practitioners try and address the root cause of a health concern, rather than treating the symptoms- an complaint made by many averting traditional medicine. Most holistic treatments involve natural remedies rather than traditional prescription drugs, which have been known to cause many undesired side effects.


Naturopathy is defined as a system of alternative medicine surrounding the theory that diseases can be successfully treated and/or prevented by natural techniques, such as diet control, exercise, massages, breathing techniques, meditation practices, and more. Naturopathy has its roots in Germany and came to the U.S. in the 1800s. The goal of Naturopathy is to provide help prevent and/or fight illnesses through supporting the body’s immune response from the core. This means taking the whole person into account when building a treatment plan. An initial exam with a Naturopathic doctor could take as long as 1-2 hours, with the doctor examining full family history, symptoms, feelings and more.

Common Concerns for Alternative Medicine Practices

  • Holistic Doctors aren’t always MDs

This can be a bit misleading since practitioners are called “doctors.” However, not all holistic or naturopathic doctors are actual MDs. Alternative medicine goes through a different type of training, typically between 2-4 years in order to practice. There are MDs out there that have acquired additional training in holistic medicine. However, that’s not the case for all of them. If your concern is to have an MD licensed in both fields, make sure to ask whether before making an appointment. 

  • Holistic Practitioners aren’t usually covered by insurance

This is a big one. Because CAM is considered an “elective” and alternative medicine, most health insurance plans don’t cover it. This means that visit expenses come “out of pocket,” which can add up quickly. Depending on your plan and insurance provider, sometimes you can use a CAM practitioner that works with your primary doctor. Things like lab work or tests that are usually costly out of pocket can sometimes be done with your primary doctor. Again, it all depends on your plan.You may want to call the CAM practitioner you’re considering and ask what types of options they have for these scenarios. The majority of holistic offices have answered these types of questions many times and can be a good resource to understand what you’ll be getting yourself into if you choose CAM over traditional medicine. You can also contact your health insurance provider to ask the limitations of coverage with this type of treatment plan.

  • People question efficacy

The big argument against CAM is its efficacy – does alternative medicine really work? While the use of Naturopathy is growing in the U.S, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and several other countries, few therapies have actually shown significant results in improving a disease. Thousands of studies have looked into the efficacy of supplements, but very few have come.

  • False positives

With nearly 40% of adults using some form of CAM therapy and counting, experts worry that people who may have had success with a minor ailment through natural remedies will forego certain treatments because of that one success story. The concern is that individuals may rely too heavily on what they think is working or versus looking into the facts behind certain treatments.

Takeaway: Do what you feels best for your body, but don’t ignore the facts

Ultimately, choices on your health should be your decision. If you feel naturopathy is the right route for you, then do so – but do your research. Choose a reputable doctor and when dealing with serious diseases, it would be a good idea to at least get a second opinion from your primary care doctor. Be weary of the popular health movements and fads, as some can do more harm than good.

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About author
Brenda is a University of California, Santa Barbara alumna with a passion for sharing information on public health, consumer safety, organic health and travel. She enjoys the outdoors and seeking new experiences to share with the world. For inquiries, contact her by email at
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