Conventional, Traditional, Complimentary, Alternative, and Naturopathic Medicine are different systems of medical treatment that are provided by different types of doctors. This web page applies only to medical practitioners in the United States, because other countries have different designations for various scopes of practice.

Conventional Medicine

Conventional medicine is the dominant system of medicine in the Western world, and is more precisely called allopathic medicine. It is primarily provided in the United States by Medical Doctors (MD) and Doctors of Osteopathy (DO).

One of the hallmarks of conventional medicine is its reliance on pharmaceutical agents that inhibit, block, or antagonize natural biochemical pathways in the body; for example ACE inhibitors, Beta blockers, Calcium Channel blockers, and Angiotensin Receptor Blockers (ARBs) to control blood pressure; HMG-coA-Reductase inhibitors (statins) to control cholesterol; Proton pump inhibitors to prevent heartburn; Cyclooxygenase (COX) inhibiters to control inflammation, vitamin K epoxide reductase inhibitors (warfarin) to block blood clotting, monoclonal antibody immune system blockers (drugs with generic names ending in "-mab"), etc.

Conventional medicine is sometimes inappropriately called "traditional medicine" (see below).

Traditional Medicine

Traditional medicine is better understood to be any of many different ethnic systems of medicine that have been practiced for hundreds or thousands of years, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayuvedic Medicine, Homeopathy, Western herbalism, and the various forms of medicine practiced by Amerindian and African shamans/medicine men, etc.

Many techniques and theories that originate in various ethnic traditions have been incorporated into what is termed complementary, alternative, or naturopathic medicine (see below).

Non-conventional Medicine

Nonconventional medicine includes all forms of medical practice that are not "conventional" (see above). This may include both traditional medicine (see above) as well as modern innovations.

Since non-conventional medical treatments are not generally proven by double-blind placebo-controlled randomized clinical trials, their safety and effectiveness is considered unproven by conventional medical authorities, despite possible theoretical, anecdotal or historical evidence.

Insurance and socialized medicine typically do not cover non-conventional treatments. There is strong political pressure to standardize socialized medical care on conventional medicine, to the exclusion of all non-conventional modalities; on the other hand, free-market solutions to health care (including medical savings accounts) allow consumer choice in exchange for consumer responsibility.

Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic Medical Doctors (NMD) are trained in conventional medicine, as well as various traditional, complementary, and alternative treatments.

One of the hallmarks of naturopathic medicine is its preference for strengthening weak natural biochemical pathways through the use of selective nutrition, rather than antagonizing strong natural biochemical pathways in the body through the use of inhibitor, blocker, or antagonist drugs.

See What are Naturopathic Medical Doctors for further discussion of Naturopathic Medicine.

Note that in the United States there are practitioners who call themselves "Naturopaths" - these are NOT the same thing as Naturopathic Medical Doctors, do not have the medical training that NMDs have, and are not licensed.

Complementary Medicine

Complementary medical treatments are non-conventional medical treatments that are used along side conventional medical treatments. The intent of complimentary medical treatments is to supplement, rather than replace, conventional medical treatments, in order to mitigate the side effects of conventional medical treatments and to optimize the innate healing response.

Alternative Medicine

Alternative medical treatments replace conventional medical treatments with non-conventional medical treatments.


The term CAM is a blanket term that includes both Complementary And Alternative Medicine (see above).


In modern usage, quack is a derisive term that is used to refer to any non-conventional medical practitioner. This is historically inaccurate.

The term quack is derived from an older term, quacksilber, which is a perversion of the term quick silver, which is another word for the chemical element  mercury. Mercury forms many highly toxic compounds that were previously widely used in medicine; the original meaning of the word quack referred to doctors who prescribed medicines formulated from these highly toxic compounds.

In the United States of America, the use of toxic mercury compounds is well-documented in the first edition of the Merck Manual. Ironically, today the Merck Manual is widely regarded as the "Bible of Allopathic Medicine".

In contrast, homeopathy is a non-conventional system of medicine that was developed in Europe in the nineteenth century as a reaction AGAINST the use of toxic doses of mercury compounds.

While respect for all persons should be the hallmark of all medical practitioners, it is ironic that, the group most often found labeling medical practices they disapprove of as quackery, are those most likely to practice the form of medicine that originated in quackery.