What’s the difference between Complementary and Alternative medicine?

People Have Many Choices When it Comes to Healthcare

It’s not big news that traditional medicine is now often practiced alongside “unconventional” or “non-traditional disciplines such as acupuncture, nutritional/herbal therapy, bio feedback, Ayurveda, chiropractic, massage, meditation and others.

When I say “unconventional,” of course I am referring to procedures outside traditional medical procedures– prescription drugs, injections, surgery, and so on.  These unconventional treatments are referred to as either “complementary” or “alternative.”

Complementary medicine refers to unconventional treatments that are done in addition to traditional (allopathic) medicine.

Alternative medicine is refers to unconventional treatments done in place of traditional medicine.

The term “medicine” when used in this context refers to the discipline and all that it encompasses; it doesn’t imply medications.

So, acupuncture can be complementary or alternative; it depends on how it is being used in the treatment plan.

The entire field of unconventional treatments is referred to as “CAM-”  Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The Guiding Principles of Complementary and Alternative Medicine

1. They tend to emphasize disease prevention in their approach.

2.  Natural healing – they teach that your body has the ability to heal itself, and the CAM treatment simply facilitates this.

3.  CAM providers see themselves as facilitators in your health with what they do.  They emphasize that it is the body’s own reparative and regenerative qualities that do all the healing.

4.  Holistic care – the focus is on treating the “whole person,” and not just the area of complaint/ affected organ or body part.

After two decades since the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)  was established in 1991 (first as the Office of Alternative Medicine), the new buzzword in this arena is Integrated Medicine

Integrated (or Integrative) medicine is where traditional medical practitioners (M.D.s, D.O.s) practice alongside CAM practitioners — acupuncturists, massage therapists, chiropractors, yoga practitioners, Ayurvedic and mind-body practitioners.  The goal of integrated medicine is to treat the whole person – mind, body and spirit – not just the disease by combining the most up-to-date medical protocols with the best of nontraditional therapies.

A Word of Caution

One important note; however, regarding CAM:  the field includes a diverse number of disciplines beyond “first tier” CAM.  Some of these disciplines can seem, and are, questionable in nature; i.e. “snake oil.”  If you are going to seek CAM, it’s best to go to a first-tier practitioner.  Finding an integrated clinic with a medical director (M.D.) is also a good choice.

While those in CAM tend to not demand as vigorously as medical practitioners scientific proof to validate their methods, honoring the body’s complexity and mystery, it is still important to have some peer-reviewed studies that support the efficacy of the CAM procedure at least for some conditions; and good anecdotal, correlative studies that show a pattern of success in treating disease.  Thus, one should avoid “second-tier” disciplines that have zero mention in medical journals.  This is a consumer protection issue.

Bottom line:  Complementary and alternative disciplines can be found in most major cities across the United States and the world.  They tend to be especially helpful for treating chronic disease that has not responded well to traditional medications.

Posted in Nutrition.