Complementary And Alternative Medicine And Its Role In Modern Healthcare

By: Adrian Cruce

Alternative and complementary medicine are not properly understood by most people out there. We are faced with a constant growth in popularity because many realize the associated benefits and statistics show that around 40% of adults are currently using or have used alternative medicine, which is also known under the acronym CAM.

CAM therapies are even embraced by some doctors, sometimes combining them with the more widespread medical therapies. However, we are faced with various concerns and most of the medics will not recommend alternative therapies, unless they have no negative impact on the treatment that was proven to be the most effective through studies.

alternative medicine

CAM Therapy Examples

What many do not know is that what is currently considered as being alternative medicine does change and new treatments are moved towards being mainstream. The best thing that you can do in order to make sure that a specific medication is alternative is to see the classification done by NCAAM (National Center For Complementary And Alternative Medicine):

  • Mind body medicine
  • Whole Medical systems
  • Energy Medicine
  • Body Based Practices
  • Manipulative practices
  • Biologically based practices

In many cases there are no clear distinctions that appear between the therapies and some of the systems will use many more techniques than you may expect, sometimes coming from not just 1 category. However, you may want to see if what you consider is included in your group health quote from work since not all might be covered and you might be asked to pay.

Mind Body Alternative Medicine

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These medicines basically strengthen communication between the mind and the body. The CAM practitioners will tell you that the 2 systems need to always remain in harmony if you want to be healthy. The common examples that can be mentioned include: art, relaxation, prayer and meditation therapies.

Whole Medical Systems


This basically refers to one system that is not just one remedy or practice, just like a massage. We are talking about various practices that will center on one philosophy, like nature’s power or energy presence inside the body. Some really common examples of whole medical systems that we can mention:

  • Homeopathy – This alternative medicine will use substances that will cause some symptoms to stimulate the self-healing response of the body. Substances are only used in small doses.
  • Ancient Healing Systems – They appeared a really long time ago, long before the conventional Western system we use today. This includes traditional Chinese medication and Ayurveda.
  • Naturopathy – A medicine system that focuses on some noninvasive treatments, useful to make your body heal itself. Various practices are used like acupuncture, exercising, lifestyle counseling, herbal remedies and massage.
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Energy Alternative Medicine

qi gong

There are many CAM practitioners that think there is an energy force that is flowing through the body. It is invisible and when the flow is unbalanced or blocked, people become sick. There are many different traditions that use various names in order to describe the energy. You most likely heard terms like life force, prana and chi before. The Energy alternative medicines try to re-balance or unblock this energy force. Examples of medicines include: reiki, magnet therapy, qi gong and therapeutic touch.

Body Based And Manipulative Alternative Medicine


Both of these will use human touch in order to manipulate or move a body part. This is where we would list alternative medicines like massage, osteopathic manipulation and chiropractic manipulation.

Biologically Based Alternative Medicine

herbal alternative treatment

The common examples include herbal remedies and dietary supplements. Such treatments will use nature found ingredients. As examples of herbs, we can mention Echinacea, ginkgo and ginseng as the most commonly used ones. There are also some supplements that are regularly included in the diet of the patients. You can take both supplements and herbs as oils, powders, syrups, capsules, tablets or teas.

Alternative Medicine Hesitation

alternative hesitation

Most of the conventional doctors do not have any integrative medicine or CAM training. Because of this, they are not at all comfortable with making a recommendation so that a patient would use alternative medicine. There is also a noticeable concern towards caution, which is definitely understandable.

The conventional medicine will always value the therapy that was shown to be effective through extensive testing and research in order to be 100% sure that it is effective and safe. Scientific evidence does exist when talking about some alternative therapies but so many of them are not properly covered. There are various questions we still need an answer to.

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We should also mention the fact that there are some exaggerated claims that appear in alternative medicine when referring to curing some diseases. For instance, some claim that cancer would be cured even if there is no proof of that. Due to this, you can understand the doctors being cautious when recommending alternative therapies.

The lack of alternative medicine research appears since a controlled medical study is highly expensive. The conventional therapies are normally funded by really large companies, those firms that sell and develop medication. Not many resources are currently available for those that want to prove that CAM can be really beneficial for the body. NCCAM was basically established because of this, with the main goal of pursuing research, together with changing the current understanding level that most people have about alternative medicine treatments.

Consulting With The Doctor

As always with anything medicine related, you will need to talk with your doctor. It is important that you make a really well informed decision before you opt for any alternative medicine we just mentioned. In many cases the medic will not be able to recommend practitioners. However, the professional can easily aid you in understanding the benefits and the risks that are associated with an alternative treatment path.

Keep in mind that your doctor should always be involved. This is especially true in the event that you currently take prescription medicine, have various medical problems or if you go through pregnancy. Never change or stop the conventional treatments that you are using at the moment. This is something that can only be done in the event that the doctor is consulted. Such a cautious approach is even necessary in the event that you are currently considering taking herbal supplementation.