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Outside of these formal medical structures there were myriad other medical practitioners, often termed irregulars, plying a range of services and goods.In much of continental Europe legal remedies served to control at least the most egregious forms of "irregular" medical practice but the medical market in both Britain and American was less restrained through regulation.The history of alternative medicine refers to the history of a group of diverse medical practices that were collectively promoted as "alternative medicine" beginning in the 1970s, to the collection of individual histories of members of that group, or to the history of western medical practices that were labeled "irregular practices" by the western medical establishment.

Many alternative notions grew out of the Lebensreform movement, which emphasized the goodness of nature, the harms to society, people, and to nature caused by industrialization, the importance of the whole person, body and mind, the power of the sun, and the goodness of "the old ways".

Irregular practice became increasingly marginalized as quackery and fraud, as western medicine increasingly incorporated scientific methods and discoveries, and had a corresponding increase in success of its treatments.

In the 1970s, irregular practices were grouped with traditional practices of nonwestern cultures and with other unproven or disproven practices that were not part of biomedicine, with the group promoted as being "alternative medicine".

It is at this point that an "official" medicine, created in cooperation with the state and employing a scientific rhetoric of legitimacy, emerges as a recognisable entity and that the concept of alternative medicine as a historical category becomes tenable.

France provides perhaps one of the earliest examples of the emergence of a state-sanctioned medical orthodoxy – and hence also of the conditions for the development of forms of alternative medicine – the beginnings of which can be traced to the late eighteenth century.

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