Alternative medicine includes a variety of medical practices. Some may refer to it as complementary medicine, as the alternative may be misinterpreted as denying the effectiveness of conventional medicine. In fact, there are many who believe that alternative medicine is able to replace conventional medicine.

The National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) of US classifies complementary alternative medicine therapies into five distinct categories:

1. Alternative whole medical systems (homeopathic and naturopathic, Chinese, and Ayurvedic medicine)
2. Mind–body interventions (meditation, prayer, mental healing, art, music, and dance therapy)
3. Biologically based therapies (herbs, foods, vitamins and other dietary supplements, including natural products such as shark cartilage)
4. Manipulative and body-based methods (chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation, massage)
5. Energy therapies (qi gong, Reiki, therapeutic touch, and electromagnetic field exposure)

Some of it originated from a previous civilisation, indicating a strong presence in that particular community such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. In fact, some of the alternative medicine have been present since 6000 years ago.

Alternative medicine in Malaysia

Alternative medicine in Malaysia depends on multicultural and diversity of Malaysian races. Alternative medicine in Malaysia is also known as traditional and complementary medicine (TCM). TCM can be classified into 6 major groups in Malaysia:

1. Traditional Malay Medicine
2. Traditional Chinese Medicine
3. Traditional Indian Medicine
4. Homeopathy
5. Complementary Medicine
6. Islamic Medical Practice

Malay as a major race has a traditional medicine that can be traced back to Indonesia. It uses a variety of herbs and methods such as Malay massage. On the other hand, the Chinese had their own traditional medicine which can be traced back to the Chinese civilisation such as acupuncture, tuinalogy and cupping; the Indians practiced traditional medicine as well, and some of the practices that they used were Siddha, Ayurveda, and Unani.

Complementary medicine in Malaysia may include chiropractic, naturopathy, osteopathy, nutritional therapy, hypnotherapy and psychotherapy. Islamic medical practice comprised of ruqyah, incantation or recitation from Holy Quran, which Muslims believe have a healing aspect.

A survey conducted by National Health and Morbidity in 1996 found that 2.3% of respondents consulted traditional medical practitioners and 3.8% used both medical practice. A more recent survey of type 2 diabetic patients was published in 2009, found that 30.2% of the patients used dietary supplements, followed by traditional Chinese medicine (25.1%) and traditional Malay medicine (17.9%). These facts clearly indicate that Malaysians are heavily influenced by alternative or complementary medicine.

Traditional and complementary medicine division

With regards to this popular trend, a unit of Traditional and Complementary Medicine Division (T&CMD) has been established under the Ministry of Health since 1996. One of the primary objectives of this division is to regulate the practice of TCM and to make sure that the practitioner undergoes a formal system of education and training. This division also aims to facilitate the scientific evaluation of TCM and incorporate it in the national health system as evidence-based medicine.

In January 2006, the Malaysia cabinet had approved the proposal to set up an integrated medicine programme that incorporates selected TCM practices into modern medicine. The first integrated hospital was first established in 2007 in Kepala Batas, Pulau Pinang. Up to December 2011, TCM has been integrated into 10 selected hospitals. MIMS

Read more:
Malaysian MOH to regulate T&CM practice under new law
The challenges of complementary and alternative medicine: Demand vs Professional responsibility
Why alternative medicine should not become mainstream