For generations, people have been exploring a variety of approaches to treat the physical, emotional, nutritional and biological effects of illness. In Western societies the practice of medicine mostly relies on therapies that typically undergo rigorous testing for safety and effectiveness before they are accepted into mainstream use. But there are many practices and products that are used around the world that while unproven by Western standards, have provided reassurances and relief of discomfort and distress for centuries.
In many cultures these are considered traditional medicine. In the West, we call these approaches complementary and alternative (CAM) treatments. They can be used in combination with conventional Western medical therapies such as medications, surgery and other standard procedures (complementary medicine) or alone (alternative medicine).
Recently, the practice of integrative medicine is gaining popularity and many mainstream medical practitioners now fully embrace and trust some of the better-studied alternative approaches, such as acupuncture, as a highly effective treatment.
People who use CAM treatments do so for a variety of reasons. Mostly they are used to accompany conventional care to improve general health and wellbeing. They are also used when conventional therapies for illnesses fall short or have failed. Still, others forgo conventional therapies altogether because they do not want to experience their potential side effects. And some prefer alternative therapies because conventional treatments do not align with their personal or spiritual philosophies.
Whatever the reasons, CAM therapies can bring comfort, control and calm to the people who use them. Nearly 40% of adults have used CAM therapies at some point in their life, mostly for back and neck problems, headaches, insomnia, colds, joint pain, anxiety, depression and cancer relief.
Types of CAM therapies