With the popularity of alternative and complementary medical techniques on the rise, many people often wonder how to differentiate the two and how they differ from mainstream conventional Western medicine, which is when doctors, nurses and other health care professionals treat diseases and symptoms with drugs, radiation and surgery.
Millions of Americans interchange the terms complementary medicine and alternative medicine, but the two are not the same thing.
When complementary medicine and alternative medicine are referenced together, many experts use the acronym CAM.
In addition to alternative and complementary medicine, there is a type of health care called integrative medicine. There are many ways to define this term, but the main component of integrative medicine is that it’s a mix of complementary and conventional therapies brought together in a coordinated way. Integrative medicine is relatively new, and researchers and physicians are currently testing whether or not it can work to help patients experiencing cancer and other serious illnesses. In fact, some hospitals and clinics are already using integrative medicine, including Nemours Children’s Health System, which focuses on “care for the whole child — body, mind and spirit.”
Alternative medicine encompasses a number of medical systems, many of which date back many centuries before conventional Western medicine became established. They include traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Ayurveda, homeopathic medicine, naturopathic medicine and others.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) alternative therapies into two general categories:
However, as NIH points out, some approaches use a mix of therapies from the above list and cannot easily be classified.