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Complementary and alternative medicine is gaining popularity with nearly forty percent of adults using complementary and alternative medicine. Physicians are embracing these therapies, too, often combining them with mainstream medical therapies — spawning the term “integrative medicine.”

What are some examples of CAM therapies?

Treatments considered alternative medicine changes constantly as they undergo testing and move into the mainstream. This is a broad outline of treatments as classified by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM):

  • Whole medical systems
  • Mind-body medicine
  • Biologically based practices
  • Manipulative and body-based practices
  • Energy medicine


Keep in mind that the distinctions between therapies aren’t always clear-cut, and some systems use techniques from more than one category.

Whole medical systems :

This is a system centered on a philosophy such as the power of nature or the presence of energy in your body.

Examples of whole medical systems include:

  • Ancient healing systems : These healing systems arose long before conventional Western medicine and include Ayurveda from India and traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Homeopathy : This approach uses minute doses of a substance that cause symptoms to stimulate the body’s self-healing response.
  • Naturopathy : This approach focuses on noninvasive treatments to help your body do its own healing and uses a variety of practices, such as massage, acupuncture, herbal remedies, exercise and lifestyle counseling.

Mind-body medicine :

Mind-body techniques strengthen the communication between your mind and your body. CAM practitioners say these two systems must be in harmony for you to stay healthy. Examples of mind-body connection techniques include meditation, prayer, relaxation and art therapies.

Biologically based practices :

Examples include dietary supplements and herbal remedies. These treatments use ingredients found in nature. Examples of herbs include ginseng, ginkgo and echinacea; examples of other dietary supplements include selenium, glucosamine sulfate and SAMe. Herbs and supplements can be taken as teas, oils, syrups, powders,tablets or capsules.

Manipulation and body-based practices :

These methods use human touch to move or manipulate a specific part of your body. They include chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation and massage.

Energy medicine :

Some CAM practitioners believe an invisible energy force flows through your body, and when this energy flow is blocked or unbalanced you can become sick. Different traditions call this energy by different names, such as chi, prana and life force. The goal of these therapies is to unblock or re-balance your energy force. Energy therapies include qi gong, therapeutic touch, reiki and magnet therapy.


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