Complementary medicine

People with allergies/intolerances and respiratory tract problems are often keen to know about treatment methods that can be used alongside conventional medical treatments. The aha! Swiss Allergy Centre provides independent information about these methods.

Complementary therapies

Complementary medicine covers a range of health care practices that can be used alongside conventional medicine. This includes both treatment systems such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and vitamin and trace element supplements such as vitamin C and selenium. Alternative treatments commonly used in Switzerland include acupuncture and herbal medicine. (Source:

In 2009, the Swiss voted in a referendum for the constitutional article for greater consideration of complementary medicine. By the end of 2017, medical treatments using anthroposophical medicine, homeopathy, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, will be initially reimbursed under statutory health insurance (basic health insurance) on certain conditions. A definitive new regulation has been planned as of 1 January 2017. To learn more, go to the website of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.

There follows below a brief description of the four complementary therapies and the traditional principles on which they are based.

Anthroposophical medicine

Anthroposophical medicine is based on the findings of Rudolf Steiner and was founded by him and Dr Ita Wagner. It focuses on man and his essence.

The basis of anthroposophical medicine is the proposition that the human body unites four dimensions: the ego, the astral or feeling body, the etheric or life body and the physical body. These four dimensions work in harmony. If one dimension becomes dominant, this harmony is disturbed, resulting in illness. The aim of treatment is to restore the correct balance between these four dimensions.

Anthroposophical remedies are made up of substances of mineral, herbal and animal origin. Anthroposophical treatment also includes movement therapy (therapeutic eurythmy), music and art therapy, biography work and compresses.


The founder of homeopathy was Samuel Hahnemann. Following self-application of cinchona, the bark of a Peruvian tree, he described the law of similars (simila similibus curentur = like cures like) as the basis of homeopathy. According to homeopathy, illness results when the life force (dynamis) is disturbed. This disturbance is caused by harmful external stimuli and manifests as symptoms. Healing is achieved by prescribing a remedy that produces a form of artificial disease that restores the disturbed life force.  

Homeopathic remedies are mostly plant, animal or mineral-based. The starting material is potentiated (diluted and vigorously shaken) and the medicines are therefore highly diluted when they are finally used. What medicinal substance is used at what potentiation is determined by the homeopathy practitioner after taking a detailed medical history.

Herbal medicine

Plants have been used since antiquity and employed for medicinal purposes in all forms of traditional medicine (traditional European medicine, TCM, ayurvedic medicine). Herbal medicine is defined as the use of plants, plant parts (e.g. roots, flowers), plant components (e.g. essential oils) or plant products (e.g. extracts) for therapeutic purposes. 

Herbal treatment is based on the medicinal effects of different plants: anti-inflammatory, decongestant, spasmolytic (anti-spasmodic), anti-microbial, etc. The desired effect determines the plant to be used as treatment. They are most commonly administered in the form of teas, liquid extracts or dry extracts, or plant parts can be eaten crushed.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a system of medicine that developed in China out of Taoism more than 2,500 years ago. It includes the concept of yin and yang, which shows how everything is interconnected. According to TCM, qi is the vital energy that flows in channels (meridians) throughout the body and over its surfaces. 

The five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water describe the eternal cycle of nature. It is postulated in TCM that an imbalance in one of these elements results in corresponding symptoms and diseases. An imbalance may be caused by emotions (e.g. anger, joy/excitement), the environment (e.g. wind, cold, dryness) or other factors (e.g. incorrect diet, injury). Health is maintained and disease treated by ensuring these elements are in balance. This can be achieved by using the following methods alone or in combination: acupuncture, cupping, Chinese medicines, Chinese nutrition therapy, qigong and tai chi and Tuina massage.


Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine and is based on the concept that the body is traversed by channels (meridians) where qi flows. Located on the meridians are acupuncture points, where the flow of qi can be controlled. An acupuncture point may have different functions. Needles are inserted into the corresponding acupuncture points depending on the symptoms. In addition to traditional acupuncture, there is also acupressure (massage technique applied to acupuncture points) as well as ear acupuncture (based on the concept that all areas of the body are represented in the ear).

Source: Checkliste Komplementärmedizin, Roman Huber, Andreas Michalsen (ed.), Haug Verlag


Editors: aha! Swiss Allergy Centre in co-operation with the Scientific Advisory Board. For prevalence figures, see source references.

aha! Swiss Allergy Centre helps

  • Experts on the aha!infoline will be happy to answer personal queries: Monday to Friday, 08.30–12.00.
  • aha!shop: Booklets and factsheets provides detailed information and are available in German, French, Italian.  The booklet "Allergies – simple to explain" and the questionnaire "Do I have an allergy" is available in English
  • aha!kinderlager for children with allergies aged between 8 and 12 years: holidays full of variety with lots of sports, play and fitness. Under expert supervision, children learn to deal better with their allergies and/or asthma.
  • aha!jugendcamp for youngsters aged between 13 and 16 years: a broad range of sports and leisure activities, skilled leaders tackle aspects of allergic diseases in adolescence.
  • Education and courses on the subjects "Allergy, asthma, chronic bronchitis", "Anaphylaxis" and "Neurodermatitis"
  • Your donation will enable us to provide important services to people with allergies, asthma and neurodermatitis. Many thanks. Your support will be put to effective use.


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