People often use the terms complementary medicine and alternative medicine in place of each other. But there is a difference. Understanding the difference will help you to become more informed about this type of medicine.
Complementary medicine is a nonstandard treatment or medicine that you use together with conventional treatment or medicine. One example is acupuncture. When it's used to treat nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy or postsurgery pain, it is a complementary therapy.
Alternative medicine is a nonstandard treatment or medicine that you use instead of conventional medicine. If you use kava in place of prescription medicines to treat anxiety or depression, it is alternative medicine.
Integrative medicine is a term from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). It combines standard medical treatments and complementary or alternative treatments. But the treatments are ones that scientific evidence have shown to be safe and effective. Practitioners of conventional Western medicine are paying more and closer attention to the benefits of many complementary and alternative treatments. They are learning how to use or recommend them. And that makes the mainstream health care system more integrative.