Complementary and Alternative Medicine, or CAM, refers to nontraditional medical practices or products. This is a very broad definition that includes many different practices and products outside of western medicine. Traditional or standard medical services are based on scientific evidence for proven efficacy. Many forms of CAM, on the other hand, may lack research support. This doesn’t mean they are not effective, just that there hasn’t been enough research to date.
Complementary medicine refers practices that are used along with standard medical services while alternative medicine is used instead of standard medical services. Integrative medicine is a complete approach including the body, mind and spirit. It’s a combination of standard care and CAM.
Different Types of Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Mind and Body: Many of us believe that there’s a mind and body connection, so what’s going on in the body affects the mind and vice versa. When faced with a major illness, there’s a lot of jabbed thoughts and information going through one’s mind. For this reason, it’s important to clear the mind and achieve maximal relaxation on a regular basis. These practices include meditation, hypnosis, yoga, positive imagery, etc. Distraction through a hobby such as drawing or music may also be helpful. Having a creative outlet helps to shift the focus from the illness to the hobby, which is usually relaxing and pleasant. Heal the mind, heal the body!
Natural Products: Vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and herbs all belong in this category. The use of botanicals and plant extract for healing purposes can be traced back thousands of years. In the recent decades, the use of herbal medicine and dietary supplements has developed considerably due to advances in research, medicine, manufacturing, and marketing. It has been accepted by mainstream public as a way to promote wellness, maintain health, prevent illnesses, and even treat diseases.
Manipulative and Body-based Practice: these practices target the musculoskeletal, lymphatic, and circulatory systems in the body. Joint manipulations performed by chiropractors, physical therapists, and other healthcare professionals are designed to relieve pain and promote symmetry. Massage therapy also falls into this category and includes many techniques designed to reduce pain, relieve muscle tension and soreness, increase circulation, promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, and much more. Together, chiropractic manipulation and massage therapy are two of the most commonly utilized CAM practices in the U.S.
There are many other forms of complementary and alternative medicine. Examples include pilates, magnet therapy, Reiki, qi gong, etc. The ultimate goal is to promote optimal physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.
There’s no doubt that advances in traditional medicine has enabled us to live longer and healthier lives. However, there are still many areas of deficits in western medicine that lead people to seek alternative care, especially in the area of preventative medicine. Many people take dietary supplements, receive massage therapy, practice pilates or qi gong for an extended period of time for overall health instead of trying to cure an illness. Others use CAM in conjunction with traditional medicine, with permission for their healthcare professionals, to reap benefits of both worlds. Regardless of the intention, people are becoming more open minded about caring for their health. However, it is important to note that many CAM practices are loosely regulated; therefore, it’s essential to research the particular product or practitioner before entrusting them with your health.