Alternative Medicine in France

Alternative medicines in France (also known as alternative or parallel medicines) are those that do not use drugs and chemical molecules in most cases to treat patients. There is a very large number of alternative medicines and each rely on a particular philosophy. Manual medicines such as osteopathy, chiropractic or etiopathy are considered to be gentle medicines that approach the body as a whole. Traditional Chinese medicine with acupuncture and shiatsu is based on the five elements to treat the patients. Hypnosis, kinesiology are still other gentle medicines with their own conceptions of illness and care.

Alternative Medicine History and Application in France and the World

Traditional medicine is based on theories, beliefs and experiences of a specific culture. It can be designated by alternative medicine in France, parallel, complementary, or unconventional. They all focus on a range of practices that are not formally integrated into the country’s primary health care system. Its methods are aimed at treating infectious and chronic diseases and are used in addition to conventional medicine. In France, about 40% of the population opt for alternative medicines. Several French doctors ( dentiste urgence ) have also introduced this discipline (to complement) into conventional medicine in order to benefit their patients from its many virtues. Acupuncture is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine. It dates from more than 2000 years. Its principle is based on a global vision of the human being who owes its good health to the balance of the forces of Yin and Yang, consequence of a good circulation of “qi”, the vital energy. Thus the needles which are used are supposed to restore the good circulation of the qi. This method can soothe pain, nausea, relieve functional disorders, stress and anxiety.

Homeopathy on the other hand is an alternative medicine in France dating from the late eighteenth century and is very popular with the French people. It is based on the principle that any substance capable of causing symptoms in a healthy person and is also capable of treating these symptoms in a sick person. That said, it is a question of treating evil with evil, but at very small doses. In addition to its health care benefits, natural medicine in homeopathy is also reimbursed 70% by Social Security in France and the rest by mutuals. As for the drugs they are reimbursed at a rate of 30%.

Alternative Medicine in France: Why such an enthusiasm about it?

The promise of taking fewer drugs, and therefore avoiding side effects is the first reason given. The second one is simply: the absence of effective remedies or the failure of classical medicine. The third explanation comes from the fact that practitioners often lack time: the average length of a visit is 12 minutes. How to consider in these conditions the overall care of the patient? Impossible? You have the right to demand more attention and less dehumanized medicine because it is too expeditious, sometimes very technical.

What French higher up think about Alternative Medicine in France?

The CAS (Center for Strategic Analysis), a French institution of expertise and decision support for the state, notes that these practices are increasingly being included in the practices of health professionals and even reimbursed as ‘homeopathy’. More and more therapists, doctors and medical professionals, exercising at the limit of care and well-being are well established.

Most of the opinions are divided as some of them worry about their inefficiency, even their dangerousness, others consider them useful for the prevention of chronic diseases and pain, in case of failure of classical medicine.

“In France, most techniques are tolerated, not necessarily well framed and sometimes even illegal.”

The lack of sanctions and the means given to patients to sort out competent professionals from pseudo-therapists does not help. The disease can serve as a gateway to sectarian (religious) movements that take advantage of the suffering or anxiety of patients. It seems essential in these conditions to ensure the safety of these techniques and to supervise the practice and training of therapists which is the responsibility of the public authorities. For most patients, this is not a rejection of conventional medicine but an active approach to the management of the disease. As proof, the majority of you consult your usual practitioner before approaching an unconventional therapist: although the sources of information multiply outside the cabinets, it is encouraged to talk to your doctor. Alternative medicine in France should not be a substitution, but a complementary approach which guarantees you a certain security. “No less than 24,000 French doctors, or one out of every four doctors, practice alternative medicine.”

Alternative Medicine in France, Do they work?

To know the answer, an overview of the most used techniques in France is required: homeopathy, acupuncture, osteopathy Being difficult to navigate, the medical authorities are skeptical or even hostile to these alternative methods because they are not scientifically proven, but paradoxically exercised by a part of the medical profession. The argument given by practitioners who use these methods to explain that the alternative medicine have not been (scientifically) proven effective is because they have not been studied enough.

  • Acupuncture

For acupuncture, health is be based on a balance between Yin and Yang, ensured by a good circulation of Qi, a vital energy that travels through the body called channels meridians. The Cochrane organization lists thousands of trials, 442 critical reviews, or 52,000 patients, three out of four of which are inconclusive for the treatment of the disease. The remaining quarter shows an effectiveness on some pains (low back pain, osteoarthritis, headache, migraines, neck pain, and labor pain) but no direct report proved with the accuracy of the points. This detail weakens the theory of meridians: in 2014, the INSERM (National Institute of Health and Medical Research) concluded that people will be better off that we plant needles (injections) precisely or not. This is explained by an analgesic effect: the sting of the needle sends pain information to the brain which responds with a slight inhibition of pain. The placebo effect comes into play in this practice and it really helps to make the patient feel better.

  • Osteopathy

Late nineteenth century, an American doctor named Andrew Taylor Still, invented this practice: each of our vertebrae is near a ganglion of the autonomic nervous system responsible for involuntary movements (breathing, heartbeat). The manipulation of the vertebrae would generate a chain reaction to treat back pain (just as effective as no steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs but no more). In 2012, INSERM listed 64 clinical trials on this subject, which is insufficient: the discipline is very heterogeneous, practiced by physiotherapists with a specific diploma or by osteopaths exclusive from one of the 74 schools in France. In terms of the effectiveness of relieving other ailments than the back, the level of evidence is insufficient to assert the effectiveness of this alternative. Handling is smoother than chiropractic and your doctor needs to establish a certificate that allows for greater handling. In practice, few doctors are willing to accept responsibility.

  • Homeopathy

About 5,000 homeopathic doctors practice in France. There are around 34 pills that are in direct access in pharmacy. Over half of French people say they have used it. The bill (medical) enters the system of reimbursement of Social Security unlike other disciplines. Critics of this alternative will tell you that there is ultimately no active ingredient in the pills, you swallow water: to give you an idea, the dilution may be lower than that of a drop of water. No risk (physical) therefore to be treated with homeopathy. Like all the techniques mentioned above, it should not be a substitute for classical treatment of heavy diseases but may prove to be effective in some cases for one reason only: the placebo effect.

How much does it cost to use or benefit from Alternative medicine in France?

An alternative therapy session (acupuncture, hypnosis, homeopathy) may cost between 50 € and 80 € depending on the specialty chosen. There is a significant difference between the region of Paris and the province. In the province, a hypnosis session will cost you around 50 € and 70 € and around 85 € in Ile-de-France. On the osteopathy side, the average price in Paris is 62 euros while in province it would be about 52 €. However, some districts in Paris can go upwards 100 € easily. For homeopathy, there is a huge price difference between the practitioners in sector 1 (consultation at 23 €) and those in sector 3 (upwards of 60 €). As for the acupuncture side of alternative medicine in France, the price vary from 23 € in sector 1 to over 150 € in the Paris region. If your therapist is a doctor then you can be reimbursed on the basis of having a general medicine consultation. The condition is that you should beforehand be passed by your doctor, who would have made you a mail to address to a homeopath or osteopathic doctor. It should be mentioned that it is within the course of the care so as to be partly reimbursed by the Social Security. On the other hand, if you decide to consul medical therapists directly without using your doctor as intermediary, then Social Security will not refund you anything. You might be willing to contact your mutual then since some of them do reimburse on alternative medicines.

Mutuals in France in contrast to medical insurance are more relaxed about the repayment of alternative medicines. On average, they reimbursed amount per session is between 25€ and 30 € with a cap of 3 to 4 session per year. For example in 2014, for 35% of contracts sold, they included a reimbursement of alternative medicines, for a maximum or 4 sessions per year ranging from € 25 to € 70 depending on the contract. By avoiding passing in the hands of quacks, you avoid wasting time and you save money. According to the latest report on sectarian excesses, 39% affect the health sector! To find contact information for competent therapists, it is advisable to consult the online directories of unions and associations in France that are representing the profession.

Alternative Medicines in France – What they cannot treat?

Two diseases cannot be cured by alternative medicine; these are shingles and facial paralysis. Alternative medicine can additionally be used to traditional medicine for certain psychiatric diseases. Although a hundred alternative medicines exist and still manages to prove its effectiveness, so many prejudices tarnish these practices and raise the mistrust of individuals in them. In addition, many doctors who do not follow training in alternative medicine and dare to venture to treat their patients with so-called natural treatments. The inefficiency of the care offered by some doctors can also prove useless and without effect, and this disappoints the patients and leads them to return to the traditional medication.


The power of the placebo effect is not only a sight of the mind. Homeopathy proves the placebo effect. However is this reason enough to justify the use of homeopathy and other alternative medicines practices? Do you really need a placebo to trigger the placebo effect? A simple relationship of trust established with your doctor is enough to optimize your support, helps you get better. Any prescription, as long as it is made by a doctor listening is enough to release endorphins Alternative medicines have no place in a care path in the strict sense (the medical protocol) but can complement it in a journey that is qualified as well-being or comfort. You have the right to treat yourself as you wish. You have the right to take care of yourself as you wish. The desire for autonomy and involvement in the management of your illness is legitimate. The relationship with the therapist is essential in medicine, which could be global. While alternative medicine is gaining some ground onto the medical protocol, it is important to not discard the real medicine at all since it has centuries of research and trial behind it, has proven and still proves to work to this day. You could probably find a way of making alternative medicine complementary with your real treatment so as to get the maximum benefits.