Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is a catchall term for any medical practice that isn’t considered standard or conventional medical care. Complementary medicines are used in addition to standard care for different medical conditions; alternative medicine is the term used when the therapy is used instead of conventional care. Many types of complementary and alternative medicines are so common that it may be odd to think of them as “alternative”.
Types of CAM
Let’s discuss the main categories of CAM. We’ll describe each basic category, as well as provide a list of examples and options in each category
This is a long list! We mean it to be informative and thorough. But don’t worry. Next week, in Part 2, we’ll help you pick which of these options is right for you. (From now on, when we say “right for you”, please know that we are discussing what may be best for you, and/or for your family, and/or anyone else for whom you may be making health care decisions.)
Feel free to click the links to be taken to external websites that will explain more about each of these options.
Alternative Medical Systems
Alternative medical systems are complete systems that usually evolved separately from Western medical care. These include:
- Chinese Medicine: Acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, etc
- Ayurveda or Ayurvedic Medicine
- Tibetan Medicine
Different forms of exercise can treat symptoms of, and/or prevent, disease. Exercise can be a system such as:
Exercise can also be movement, either supervised or unsupervised, like:
- Team sports: soccer, softball, football, etc.
Touch therapies are based on manipulating and/or moving a person’s body. These include:
- Therapeutic massage: Different from relaxation or Swedish massage, many therapists today focus on injury rehabilitation and/or pain relief.
- Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method: These therapies both teach patients to sit, stand, and move in ways that reduce pain and tension.
Nutritional therapies, like exercise, can help both treat and prevent disease. Always see your desired medical professional for specific recommendations tailored to you. Nutritional therapies include:
- Specialty diets: Specific Carbohydrate Diet, vegetarianism, veganism, DASH (for high blood pressure), allergy-avoiding diets, grain-free, etc.
- Weight loss diets: Paleo, Mediterranean, low carb (Dukan, Atkins, etc), ultra-low-fat; HCG; Zone; intermittent fasting (IF), etc.
- Nutritional supplements: Vitamins and minerals, either taken separately or packaged as multivitamins.
- Herbal medicine: Different medical systems like Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, and Western medicine all recommend certain herbal supplements that are intended to help treat or prevent disease.
- Natural products: bovine or shark cartilage, tea polyphenols, probiotics, etc.
Studies find that people heal better when they have good emotional and mental health. Therapies that focus on improving mental health include:
- Spiritual practice (attending religious services, prayer, etc)
- Meditation and guided imagery practices
- Qigong: This is a movement-based meditation, rather than a form of exercise, and is appropriate for most people, including the elderly and frail, cancer patients, etc
- Support groups
- Mental health services: Cognitive-behavioral therapy, counseling, etc
- Aromatherapy: Essential oils are inhaled or applied topically for various physical and mental health purposes.
Energy therapies manipulate a person’s electromagnetic energy field to stimulate healing. Generally, there is poor scientific support for the effectiveness of energy therapies, but they remain popular and are considered to be relaxing, improve sleep, and reduce stress. They include:
Which Alternative Medicine Do I Choose?
Many of the above therapies might be very familiar to you. It’s even likely that you participate in one or more of these! Alternative medicines are not so very alien to us in this day and age, and are often be a normal part of our lifestyles.
Now that you’ve seen the vast array of complementary and alternative medicines available to you, how do you select which therapy- or which several therapies!- are right for you or your family?
Check back next week for Part 2 of 2. We’ll help you narrow down your options using a three-step process that will be take only a little bit of time, be easy, and be fun!
Did you learn a lot? Which CAM therapies do you do already, and which therapy sounds interesting? Leave your comments below.
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