What Is Alternative Medicine? Are They Effective?

Alternative treatment is health-related treatments that are mainly given outside the health care system, by unauthorized health workers (“alternative therapists”). There, the term “health-related treatment” embraces a wide range of services that are believed to be able to prevent, treat or alleviate disease, ailments, and disorders, as well as to strengthen the immune system or the body’s self-healing abilities.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine – What You Need To Know

It is widely believed that a form of treatment is defined and regulated as an “alternative” because it has not been documented to be effective. It is true that claims about the effect of alternative treatments often lack solid scientific support, but this is not what defines them as an alternative – the legislation does not embrace research status on either effect or safety.

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Alternative treatment may also include measures other than seeking and receiving treatment from an alternative therapist; such as the use of various health products, self-help techniques, diets, and lifestyle programs. There are many factors that come into play here, and it can be difficult to understand and keep track of.

What are health-related treatments?

“Health-related treatments” are measures that are intended to treat a health problem. It is thus the goal of the treatment, and not the form of the treatment itself, that decides whether the treatment is to be regarded as an alternative or not.

In Norway, for example, it is known that yoga is used both as a treatment and as a form of exercise. According to the definition, someone who uses yoga for migraines or diabetes, for example, will be considered a user of alternative treatment, while using yoga for the sake of exercise or well-being will not be considered a use of alternative treatment.

What is considered inside and outside the health care system?

In order to decide whether a health-related treatment is to be regarded as an alternative or not, one must look at whether it is mainly performed within or outside the health service (the public health service).

A treatment is considered within the health service when it is provided within the primary health service, the specialist health service, and the dental health service. This applies both when the treatment is given in the public sector, and when health personnel in privately owned enterprises give similar treatment. All treatments other than these are counted as outside.


As long as a health-related treatment is mainly given outside the health care system, it is considered an alternative treatment, regardless of who provides it. Although acupuncture is currently given in many hospitals, the form of treatment is therefore still considered an alternative treatment, regardless of whether the acupuncture is given by an acupuncturist, midwife, or doctor.

However, one cannot turn this upside down and say that treatments that are mainly given within the health care system can thus never be considered as an alternative treatment. Treatment or treatment advice given by a person without authorization will, as mentioned, be regarded as an alternative treatment, regardless of the remedy used in the treatment.

Examples of this are if an alternative therapist gives you advice on iron supplements for your iron deficiency, or suggests over-the-counter medicines intended for self-treatment of a specific problem. Although the alternative therapist here suggests the same as the doctor and the health service would probably do, the treatment is considered an alternative – because the therapist does not have an authorization, and the advice is given outside the health service.