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Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Part 1 of 2.


Modern Medicine and the Ascent of Alternative Medicine

You most likely have a basic understanding of how modern medicine works.

People have a yearly checkup, take an antibiotic if they're sick and get a cast for a broken limb after which they'll be as good as new.

In recent years however many other approaches to healing have increased in popularity and many of these "alternative" methods came from all over the globe and have been around for thousands of years.

What is alternative medicine and what does it do?

The term 'alternative medicine' is used to describe healing treatments that are not a part of conventional medical training, like acupuncture, massage therapy, or herbal medicine. A few years back most people considered practices like these as outside of the mainstream which is the why they were referred to as "alternative."

Nearly all Eastern countries have a longstanding tradition of teaching and using alternative medicine but until very recently the majority of Western hospitals failed to offer any alternative treatments and they were not taught in Western medical schools.

Recently however a growing number of people in Western countries have become more receptive to trying alternative techniques and have been requesting them.

As a consequence of this many Western medical schools are now starting to teach the techniques and theories of 'alternative medicine' and some hospitals and doctors are now supplementing their regular medical care with alternative techniques.

Complimentary and Alternative Medicine - CAM

A growing number of patients and health care providers now use alternative treatments at the same time as conventional therapies and this is method is known as 'complementary medicine'.

Both alternative and complementary medicine use the same types of remedies to treat a health condition with the only difference being that 'alternative' medicine is often used instead of conventional medical techniques whereas 'complementary' medicine is used in tandem with the more recognized and accepted modern (allopathic) treatments

How does CAM differ from conventional medicine?

Conventional medicine is based on a scientific knowledge of the body and uses treatments that have been proven effective through scientific research and
doctors are trained to have a meticulous knowledge of the body's systems, the diseases that affect it and their treatments.

Complementary and alternative medicine are based on the belief that a medical care provider needs to treat the 'whole' person which means, the body, the mind and the spirit. The techniques used in CAM are generally far less invasive than the ones used in conventional medical practices and that they don't rely on surgery or conventional medicines.

A number of CAM therapies are supported by scientific evidence but for most part there are still questions that need to be addressed and answered through scientific studies.

This doesn't mean that the CAM therapies don't work, it simply means that Western experts haven't yet studied them enough to understand their workings and to be sure that they are worthwhile.

Why Do Many People Use CAM?

People often resort to CAM when they have a continuing problem that conventional medicine isn't helping such as a person who has been seeing a doctor for years about arthritis. He might try using CAM in addition to his ongoing treatments to see if it will help to relieve the side effects that he is experiencing as a result of the conventional treatments. Or he might hope that CAM will cure the arthritis completely.

Many healthy people also use complementary and alternative systems like Yoga believing that it will improve their overall well being and also help to fend off any future sicknesses.

The Four Areas

1. Biologically based practices involve supplementing a person's normal diet with additional nutrients, herbs, extracts and perhaps certain foods. If you ever took a vitamin or herbal supplement then you followed a biologically based practice.
2. Manipulative and body based therapies focus on the body's various systems and structures and if you ever had chiropractic treatment or a massage then you've been treated with manipulative therapy.
3. Mind body practices make use of the connection between a person's mind, body, and spirit to enhance total well being and might include such things as meditation, yoga and bio-feedback.
4. Energy therapies are used to correct disturbances affecting the body's natural energy flows and include such practices as Qi gong and Reiki.

In addition to the above four divisions, CAM also encompasses several other different and in some ways separate medical systems that are complete in themselves.

These alternative medical systems are entire systems of theory and practice and many have been in existence for thousands of years longer than the conventional medicine offered in the West today.

A few examples of alternative medical systems include Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, homeopathic medicine and naturopathic medicine and it is perhaps worth noting that many of today's 'alternative' medical systems include and use parts of foregoing in their treatments.

By way of example, the Traditional Chinese Medicine practice of acupuncture might be combined with herbal medicine (a biologically based practice), and/or Qi gong (an energy therapy). Moreover, Ayurveda includes the mind-body healings of meditation and yoga along with the biologically based practice of taking specific herbs for health reasons.

Please click here for Part 2