Complementary and alternative medicine (Proceedings)


Complementary and alternative medicine (Proceedings)

Apr 01, 2009

What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)?

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a component of the National Institutes of Health, defines CAM as "a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine." Alternative medicine is the use of these modalities instead of conventional medicine while complementary medicine is the application of these modalities in conjunction with conventional medicine. Other synonyms for conventional medicine include allopathic medicine, Western medicine, orthodox medicine, and biomedicine. Conventional medicine is practiced by those that have earned M.D. or D.O. degrees, and by other "allied health professionals" including registered nurses, physical therapists and psychologists.

NCCAM defines integrative medicine as the combination of "standard medicine with CAM practices that have been shown to be effective". For others, integrative medicine is a comprehensive approach to health care that conveys the integration of Western and alternative therapies utilized together. For example, in human medicine, meditation and massage therapy are being used in conjunction with chemotherapy in the treatment of cancer. Integrative medicine is the new wave in health care and will be the future of medicine. Currently it is part of the curriculum at 28 major medical schools in the United States. Functional medicine is a new branch of integrative medicine which utilizes evidence-based, proven methods from alternative and conventional modalities, to look at the individual core physiology of each patient, including historical events and emotional state.

Holistic health is not a modality but a philosophy that views the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of life as well as relationships, to be closely interconnected and balanced. The focus is on the whole person, not just the disease or clinical signs with which they present. Essentially, it is looking at the body as a complete, WHOLE package.

In 2002, a National Health Interview Survey conducted by the NCCAM and the National Center for Health Statistics (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) found that 36% of American adults use some form of CAM, but when megavitamin therapy and prayer for health reasons was included, that number jumped to 62%. A recent survey by AARP and NCCAM found that almost two-thirds of people 50 years or older are using some form of CAM but less than one third of them discuss CAM usage with their health providers.

Similar trends are seen in veterinary medicine. A 1990 University of Florida survey revealed that 34% of animal owners utilized some form of CAM. By 1997, survey results showed an increase to 42% but 60% of these people did not provide this information to their regular veterinarian.

Current AVMA Guidelines for Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine do not recognize complementary and alternative medicine as a specialty. Recognition of a veterinary specialty organization by the AVMA requires "demonstration of a substantial body of scientific knowledge. Additionally, the AVMA has not evaluated the training or education programs of other entities that provide certificates for alternative modalities.

While we may not perceive the merit of many CAM modalities that are utilized today, it is our responsibility to be educated on the benefits and risks of the major treatment therapies that are being utilized at an increasing rate by health care professionals and non-health care practitioners.

CAM practices have been grouped into whole medical systems and 4 other domains by NCCAM:

  • Whole Medical Systems
  • Mind-Body Medicine
  • Biologically Based Practices
  • Manipulative and Body-Based Practices
  • Energy Medicine.

Whole Medical Systems

These are complete, stand-alone medical systems that have evolved over long periods of time in different parts of the world.

Ayurvedic Medicine

This term literally means "the science of life". It is a natural medical system that was developed in India over 5000 years ago and emphasizes the balance of the physical, emotional and spiritual states. Nutrition, meditation, yoga, massage and herbs, controlled breathing and exposure to sunlight are utilized in treatment protocols.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

This is also known as Traditional Oriental Medicine (TOM). This medical system extends as far back as 2200 BC-3000 BC. Health is a balance of Qi (energy), Yin and Yang; disease is therefore an imbalance in the body. Acupuncture, herbal formulas, Tui-na (Chinese medical massage), food therapy and Tai Chi or Qi Gong are utilized to achieve and maintain balance. Acupuncture is widely accepted and has been scientifically proven to be effective in managing chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting, and in controlling pain associated with surgery. It has broad applications and can be used in the treatment of problems that involve behavior, neurology, endocrinology, oncology, dermatology, internal medicine and musculoskeletal issues.


This 200 year old science of natural pharmaceuticals was started by the German physician, Samuel Hahnemann in 1796. This system is based on the "law of similars" or "like treats like". Remedies are derived from plants, animals or minerals. The remedy is selected based upon how closely it will produce the same symptoms that a patient is exhibiting. The remedy is prepared by a dilutional technique so that it retains the energetic pattern of the original substance without causing toxicity. There is not a substantial amount of the original substance left in the remedy. Theoretically, the remedy creates an "artificial disease" in the body that displaces the natural disease and allows the body to help heal itself. The use of homeopathy has created some skepticism and controversy in the scientific community however the 2002 National Health Interview Survey revealed that around 7.4 million people had used homeopathy.

Naturopathic Medicine

Literal translation of "naturopathy" is "nature disease". Naturopathic medicine originated in Europe and utilizes a distinctly natural approach to health and healing. Reportedly, it also has roots in India, along with Ayurveda, but is practiced in many countries around the world. Treatment of disease and injury is through stimulation, enhancement and support of the body's inherent healing capability. The principles of healing are based on observation of the nature of health and disease with continued reexamination of treatments with emerging scientific analysis.