Natural Cures, Natural Remedies, Vitamins
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Making Sense of Non-Traditional Medicine

Americans in ever greater numbers are using non-traditional approaches to healthcare. CAM is an umbrella term used for complementary medicine and alternative medicine. These two approaches to health are often seen as interchangeable, but they are actually distinct.

Complementary medicine encompasses those healing products and practices that are used in conjunction with allopathic, or traditional, medicine. An example might be a cancer patient suffering from the unpleasant side effects of traditional chemotherapy. To treat those, she seeks treatment from an acupuncturist. The two approaches complement each other.

Alternative medicine is different in that it is a substitute for allopathic medicine. A cancer patient who declines chemotherapy and instead treats his disease through diet is using alternative medicine. His approach is an alternative to standard Western medicine.

More and more physicians are practicing a third category – integrative medicine. Integrative medicine combines traditional medicine with therapies from both complementary and alternative medicine. Integrative medicine practitioners offer their patients the best of all worlds.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) recently conducted a survey of information from over 20,000 adults and almost 10,000 children, and found that approximately 40 percent of adults and 12 percent of children have been treated with some form of complementary and alternative medicine. Women, people from ages 40 to 60, and all adults with higher education and income are the most frequent consumers of non-traditional healthcare. More and more people are taking advantage of healthy lifestyle alternatives such as yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy and meditation.

NCAAM has identified five main categories of complementary and alternative medicine:

  • Mind-body medicine. Mind-body medicine offers treatments designed to improve your mental and emotional status in order to support physical health. Meditation, art and music therapy are examples.
  • Whole medical systems.  This category includes entire systems of medicine that operate outside of allopathic medicine. Some of them date back thousands of years. Examples are Ayurveda, the traditional medicine practiced in India, and traditional Chinese medicine. In the West, homeopathy and naturopathy are whole medical systems.
  • Manipulative and body-based practices. This category includes therapies that rely on physical manipulation of the body that is intended to treat specific conditions and improve health, such as chiropractic and osteopathy.
  • Energy medicine.  Energy medicine uses energy fields to support healing. Biofield therapies target the energy fields that are believed to surround your body. They include Reiki and qi gong. This category also includes bioelectromagnetic-based therapies such as magnet therapy.
  • Biologically based practices. This category includes biological approaches to health, such as herbs, nutrition, vitamins and minerals, and other dietary supplements. The increased interest in this approach has spurred new research, but many of these practices and products have not yet been scientifically tested.

If you are considering taking advantage of some of these therapies, do your research and consult trustworthy health practitioners.