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Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Complementary and Alternative Medicine is a very large group of interventions which are used alongside or instead of traditional medical treatments and therapies.

  • Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine.
  • Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine groups CAM practices into five domains

1. Whole Medical Systems. Whole medical systems are built upon complete systems of theory and practice. Examples include homeopathy, naturopathy and Ayurveda

2. Mind-Body Medicine. Interventions which use a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. Examples include meditation, prayer and mental healing, as well as therapies that use creative outlets such as art, music, or dance.

3. Biologically Based Practices (Biomedical). Interventions which use use substances found in nature, such as herbs, foods, and vitamins. Examples include dietary supplements and herbal products, as well as practices such as chelation when using such substances.

4. Manipulative and Body-Based Practices. Interventions which are based on manipulation of the body. Examples include chiropractic, osteopathy and massage.

5. Energy Medicine Energy therapies involve the use of energy fields. They are of two types: i) Biofield therapies are intended to affect energy fields that purportedly surround and penetrate the human body. The existence of such fields has not yet been scientifically proven. Examples include qi gong, reiki and therapeutic touch ii) Bioelectromagnetic-based therapies involve the unconventional use of electromagnetic fields, such as pulsed fields, magnetic fields, or alternating-current or direct-current fields.

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The fact that an intervention is listed in this glossary does not necessarily mean that we agree with its use. Nor does it necessarily mean that there is any scientifically valid or reliable evidence behind it.