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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Catergorization of CAM Therapies

Types of CAM are grouped into broad categories. Although these categories are not formally defined,  they are useful for discussing CAM practices. Some CAM practices may fit into more than one category.

 Here is a list of the various therapies:

  • Whole Medical Systems
  • Biologically Based Practices
  • Energy Medicine
  • Manipulative and Body-Based Practices
  • Mind-Body Medicine


What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

Many people use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in pursuit of health and well-being.  But defining CAM is difficult because the field is very broad and constantly changing.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) defines CAM as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.

"Conventional medicine" (also called Western or allopathic medicine) is medicine as practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) and D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degrees and by allied health professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists, and registered nurses.

"Complementary medicine" refers to use of CAM together with conventional medicine such as using aromatherapy to help with pain after surgery or acupuncture in addition to usual care to help lessen pain.  Most use of CAM by Americans is complementary.

"Alternative medicine" refers to use of CAM in place of conventional medicine.  Using garlic to lower blood pressure instead of prescription drugs is an example of Alternative medicine.