Healing with Alternative Complementary Medicine

By Val Silver

Are you searching for health care options? If so, alternative complementary medicine (CAM) has much to offer. These approaches, and the methods they use, have been helping people around the world get well and stay well for thousands of years.  

CAM comprises every health care system not considered part of mainstream western, or allopathic, medicine. Depending on your needs, CAM may be used in addition to conventional care or instead of it, as the basis of a holistic whole person approach to wellness.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine divides alternative therapies and systems into five categories as a way to classify them. Even so, some of these methods naturally fall into other groups as well.

What is the Difference Between Alternative Medicine and Complementary Therapy?

The difference is just a matter of semantics and how the therapies are used. Alternative therapies are used apart from allopathic conventional medicine. Complementary therapies are used in addition to modern medicine. For example, someone with diabetes taking an alternative approach might address their condition with an appropriate diet, moderate exercise, herbs and meditation, but no pharmaceuticals. If someone takes the same approach plus pharmaceuticals, this is called complementary therapies.

Whole Medical Systems are complete systems of alternative medicine such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and homeopathy. Most of these systems were practiced for thousands of years before conventional modern medicine came into being. Whole medical systems often take a holistic approach to healing and wellness, and are still practiced today.

5 Different Types of Alternative Medicine

Alternative complementary medicine are classified into five different types. 

Mind-Body Medicine

Mind-Body Medicine includes modalities that work with the healing power of the subconscious mind to positively affect bodily function and symptoms.

complementary therapies, meditating

Many of these methods, such as meditation, shamanic ritual, yoga, prayer, and tai chi, have played important roles in whole medical systems or religious practice for years. Others, including hypnosis, progressive relaxation, guided imagery and expressive art therapies are relative newcomers, although they too have roots in ancient practice.

Once almost solely belonging in the realm of alternative complementary medicine, mind body methods are gaining credibility with medical professionals as research supports their effectiveness. Other doctors have created their own healing systems based on the power of the mind to affect the body, and vice versa.

Biologically Based Practices

Biologically Based Practices are the most well-known and commonly used form of complementary medicine, probably because they can be manufactured, advertised tested, and purchased at reasonable cost. Research supports the effectiveness of some of these natural substances.

Vitamins, minerals, herbal remedies,  antioxidants, healing foods and supplements to promote healing and wellness are included in this CAM category. 

Energy Medicine

Energy Medicine is divided into two types:

Biofield therapies, commonly called bio-energy healing, intends to positively affect the human energy field for health and healing. It is the most controversial form of energy medicine.  Although quantum physics and new research do provide evidence of energy fields, scientists have yet to prove their existence or provide reproducible results.

There are many energy techniques, most of which have their roots in ancient medicine and religion. Some require no touching at all while others work by applying light pressure or placing hands on the body. Reiki, therapeutic touch, acupuncture, meridian exercises, distance healing, and prayer are examples of biofield therapies.

´╗┐Bioelectromagnetic-based therapies can be measured and controlled. Some of these therapies are well supported by research, and have a place in mainstream medicine, such as using ultraviolet light for psoriasis and pacemakers for the heart.

Other bioelectromagnetic methods remain in the realm of alternative complementary medicine because they are more unconventional. They may have some support for limited uses but not others. Examples include magnet therapy, sound healing, and electro-accupunture, now known as bioresonance therapy.

Manipulative and Body Based Health Care

´╗┐Manipulative and Body Based methods use manipulation and/or movement of body parts. Therapy usually focuses on stimulating, relaxing, or realigning the structures and systems of the body. For example, chiropractic or osteopathy realigns the bones.

Various types of massage manipulate soft tissue to relax your muscles, improve circulation, and stimulate the lymphatic system. Reflexology stimulates reflex points on the feet, hands and ears related to organs and systems of the body. Depending on the legal requirements in your locale, many of these techniques may have to be performed by trained and licensed practitioners.

The alternative complementary medicine field is gaining popularity as more people become aware of holistic healing and natural methods for supporting wellness. Even though this field is growing rapidly, be aware that many allopathic doctors are either unfamiliar with CAM or are not open to it. They do not accept anything outside of approved medical practices until scientific studies validate it, even when anecdotal evidence abounds.

Other medical professionals openly support an integrated holistic healing approach using alternative complementary medicine. They encourage their patients to incorporate appropriate safe methods in addition to mainstream medical care to achieve the best possible outcome. 

Whether you use alternative therapies on your own, or with the blessing of your medical provider, do your research and choose techniques and remedies that appeal to you and have solid anecdotal evidence and/or supporting research for your particular needs. Then they will play a positive role in the health and healing of your whole self.

Reference: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) 

Alternative Complementary Medicine page updated 04/2020

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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