Understanding Complementary Medicine, Alternative Medicine & CAM

May 29, 2015

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

See current opportunities

Mentors and students in Thailand The terms Complementary therapies and Alternative therapies are often used interchangeably or they are clubbed together and referred to as CAM. This rather flexible terminology has become widely accepted because although there are a few significant distinguishing features between the two types of therapies, there are still a number of remedies that are hard to identify as belonging to either the complementary or alternative category.

The most important difference between the two is that complementary treatments are used together with traditional medicine, while alternative remedies on the other hand are used on their own instead of traditional medicine. For example, a cancer patient who is given conventional treatment such as chemotherapy but is also told to go for acupuncture sessions in order to help deal with the pain will be going through a complementary treatment. However, if the patient decides against conventional medicine and decides instead to be treated by some form of natural medicine such as ‘Gerson therapy’ or any other, that would be considered an alternative treatment plan.

The Meaning of Complementary Medicine

In cases when a conventional form of treatment is prescribed, it is possible to use complementary medicine alongside the conventional treatment. These are often recommended to help a patient deal with the pain better and improve their quality of life. In most cases, complementary medicine may not actually cure the problem on their own but they may help make the traditional treatment more effective.

Some of the better-known complementary therapies include herbal medicine, yoga, aromatherapy and acupuncture.

The Meaning of Alternative Remedies

Alternative therapies are used instead of conventional medicine. Doctors who specialise in these fields usually offer their patients an alternative treatment plan for different ailments. For example, a patient suffering from cancer may be told to stop their traditional cancer treatment if they are being treated by alternative medicine. There is no solid proof that most alternative medicine can definitely cure ailments. However, many patients prefer alternative treatment and lifestyle options for different ailments.

CAM & Its Categories

According to the NCCAM (National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine), there are five different categories of medicine that fall under this field. These categories include:

This category refers to the medical practices that aim at synchronising all the bodily functions and healing the entire system so that every falls into place and functions smoothly. For example, homeopathy and ayurvedic treatments have been practices for centuries. 

This form focuses on how our emotions and our mental status can affect our physical functioning. For example, art therapy and meditation aim at calming the mind and enhancing the mental capacity so that it reflected by our physical actions. 

This method aims to manipulate certain joints or parts of the body in order to improve certain symptoms or problems that are affecting the overall health of a person. Examples include acupuncture and chiropractic treatments. 

This practice focuses on the use of herbs, vitamins and other supplements that bring about an accurate balance in the body and make it function smoothly. It is one of the most common forms of CAM. 

This therapy uses energy fields in order to promote healing within the body. Magnet therapy is an example of such a kind of treatment.

Over the past few years, CAM lectures have become a part of the mainstream medical school curriculum so that future doctors are better able to help their patients make more informed decisions.

Contact us on Facebook or Twitter, or email info@gapmedics.com

Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.