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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: History

An overview of complementary and integrative medicine including history, branches of practice, professionals, and research methods.

A Navajo medicine man

A Navajo Medicine Man

Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Originating in ancient China, this practice has evolved over thousands of years. Traditional Chinese Medicine practices involve the use of herbs, dietary therapy, and mind and body practices such as acupuncture and tai chi. Although the exact number of people who use TCM in the United States is unknown, the NCCIH estimated in 1997 that some 10,000 practitioners served more than 1 million patients each year. Acupuncture and tai chi were noted as the most frequently used. 

Interested in finding out more? The NCCIH has an in-depth page exploring Traditional Chinese Medicine


Homeopathy is the oldest form of complementary and alternative medicine developed in Europe. Founded by Samuel Hahnemann, it was first practiced in Germany at the end of the 18th century. There are two main theories in homeopathic medicine: "Like cures like" and the "Law of minimum dose." Homeopathic remedies are derived from substances that come from plants, minerals, or animals, often formulated as sugar pellets. It is not uncommon for two people with the same condition to receive different treatments as remedies are tailor made for individuals. 

Looking for more information? Check out Homeopathy at NCCIH.

Ayurvedic Medicine

Originating in India more than 3,000 years ago, Ayurvedic is one of the world's oldest medical systems. Many practices predate written records and were handed down by word of mouth. Ayurveda has three broad types of treatment: elimination therapies, pacification therapies, and nourishing therapies. Physicians prescribe individualized treatments, including compounds of herbs or other ingredients (including metals), diet, exercise, yoga, body manipulation, and lifestyle recommendations.

Much of the information was drawn from the NCCIH: Ayurvedic Medicine

Native American Traditional Healing

Unlike standard western practices, Native American wellness and traditional healing focus on the balance of mental, physical, and spiritual wellness. The connection between communities, nature, tradition, and the Great Spirit is the guiding principal for continued well-being in Native cultures. Though practices may differ from tribe to tribe foundations of Native American healing include plants, story-telling, tobacco, music, smudging, and ceremonies. While a healer or medicine man will be present in communities to facilitate treatments it is believed that health and well-being is an individual responsibility. 

Explore the NLM's digital collection on Native American healing.