Your Guide to CAM


What is CAM?

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines CAM as “diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.” Like other areas of medicine, CAM is a diverse, ever changing and evolving field.

CAM is a holistic approach to health

CAM focuses on comprehensive health care that addresses the needs of the “whole” person physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual, and economic. Many components of complementary and alternative medicine have been around for thousands of years and have become widely accepted worldwide.

There are several different types of CAM.

Complementary medicine is used along with conventional medicine and alternative medicine is used instead of convention medicine. Integrative medicine combines conventional medicine with CAM therapies that have proven safe and effective. General categories of CAM include natural products, mind/body medicine, and body-based/manipulative medicine.

Choosing a CAM practitioner is an important decision.

If you’re considering complementary and alternative medicine, talk to your health care provider he or she may be able to recommend a CAM practitioner. If possible, meet with prospective practitioners beforehand and ask about his or her education, training, experience and credentials, as well as the costs associated with therapy.

Communicate with your health care providers.

It’s important to make your entire health care team physicians, CAM practitioners, pharmacist aware of your medical history and any/all conventional medical treatments and CAM therapies you are currently using. Certain treatments, including dietary supplements, herbs, and even some foods, can interact and cause adverse side effects.

Children and CAM

According to the NIH, about 12% of children in the United States use some form of CAM. There is little reliable research about the effects of CAM therapies on children available, it’s especially important for parents to discuss options with their child’s pediatrician and follow all recommendations closely.

Classifications of CAM

Components of CAM may be grouped into broad or narrow categories, such as whole medical systems, natural products, mind/body medicine, body and energy field manipulation practices, and movement therapies. However, these categories are not clearly defined and there is much overlap—many therapies fall into more than one classification.

Whole Medical Systems

These components of complementary and alternative medicine, which include traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy and naturopathy, are complete systems of ideas and practices. Each system encompasses a variety of theories, treatments and techniques—some of which have evolved over thousands of years.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine is an ancient medical system based on the principle that everything in the universe is interrelated and illness and disease arise from disruption of the body’s vital substances and an imbalance in the body’s Yin-Yang. TCM includes acupuncture, herbal medicine and Qi gong.