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Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative Medicine

Updated on October 28, 2013


The US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) defines Complementary and Alternative as “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine”. However, Complementary medicine is used in conjunction with conventional medicine. On the other hand alternative medicine may be used independent of conventional medicine. NCCAM defines integrative medicine as, “…mainstream medical therapies and for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness”.

Alternative medicine is defined as “any of various systems of healing or treating disease not included in the traditional medical curricula taught in the United States and Britain”. Some of the examples of alternative medicine are chiropractic, homeopathy, or faith healing. Complementary medicine as obvious from the term is defined as “any of the practices of alternative medicine accepted and utilized by mainstream medical practitioners” (Merriam-websteronline). The phrase complementary and alternative medicine is an umbrella term to include both these branches.

The development of New American medicine testifies the growing popularity of CAM for its overall wellness and holistic approach to health. The scientists and medical practitioners have recently awoken to the fact of group approach (an aspect of CAM) in treatment. The example of this awakening can be found in the work of David Spiegel, MD, Living Beyond Limits. The result was startling for Dr Spiegel himself.

Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) has used ‘group support’ in one of the most successful ‘alternative’ methods of healing practices since it’s founding.

Complementary techniques use very ancient health practices, whose validity is now being proved by cutting edge physics and biology. We should be able to appreciate it better, if we recognize that modern medical science is based on the concepts of Newton and pre-Darwinian biology to explain the mechanics of everyday life, while, modern quantum physics and biology-ecology are necessary to understand complementary medicine.The rise in the use of herbal medicine proves the Americans have begun to appreciate the value of botanicals.

There are several issues hindering acceptance of CAM as popular mainstream therapy. There is the issue of regulation. There is the question of efficacy. Critics have attributed placebo effect to reported cases of successful treatment. There are other issues like danger to the health of the patients, the fact of their being unproven and untested among the others. The alternative medicine lack validity for the efficacy of treatments have not been demonstrated through randomized trials. In studies, the use of alternative medicine has been found to predict a lower survival rate for cancer patients.

However, statistics indicate a booming market for complementary, alternative and integrative medicine in America. A recent Gallup poll showed that chiropractice, the largest alternative medicine market had 30 percent American adult adherents, out of which 90 percent were satisfied clients. During 1980s, sales of homeopathic medicine rose by 1000 percent in America. The NationalCenter for Complementary and Alternative medicine has funded research in acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. The Ayurvedic emphasis on the role of diet and emotions in health is increasingly becoming a part of Western medicine. The New American Medicine clearly appears to be gaining momentum.


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