Guide Complementary Medicine For Dummies

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Nibbling on Nutritional Therapy. Opening Up with Osteopathy. Getting to the Crunch with Chiropractic.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Moving with Bodywork Therapies. Connecting with Healing Therapies. Feeling the Buzz of Energy Medicine. Having a Go with Creative Therapies. Ten Superfoods for Great Health. Both alternative and complementary medicine use the same kinds of remedies to treat health conditions.

The difference is that alternative medicine is often used instead of conventional medical techniques. Complementary medicine is used in addition to conventional medicine, not as a replacement. Conventional medicine is based on scientific knowledge of the body and uses treatments that have been proven effective through scientific research. Doctors are trained to have a thorough knowledge of the body's systems, diseases, and their treatments.

We shouldn’t use labels like “Alternative” and “Conventional” Medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine is based on the belief that a medical care provider has to treat the whole person — body, mind, and spirit. The techniques used in CAM are mostly less invasive than conventional medical practices, meaning that they don't rely on surgery or conventional medications.

Some CAM therapies are supported by scientific evidence, others are not.

Complementary and Integrative Medicine

Many still need to be studied. This doesn't mean these therapies don't work, it just means that experts haven't studied them enough to know if they do — and if so, how. People often turn to CAM when they have a long-lasting problem that conventional medicine hasn't completely cured. Someone might try complementary health approaches to help improve symptoms or manage side effects from conventional treatments.

People may also use CAM when they're not sick. Because many people believe that CAM approaches — such as practicing yoga or taking dietary supplements — can improve overall well being, healthy people often use alternative medicine to try to prevent illness or ensure a healthier lifestyle. Just as there are many fields in conventional medicine, CAM covers many different practices. In addition to these different practices, CAM includes several whole medical systems.

Talk to your doctor before giving your child any dietary supplement. Parents might also give their kids much more of an herb than recommended, thinking that because it's natural, higher doses won't hurt. Choosing a practitioner can pose another problem. Although many states have licensing boards for specialists in acupuncture or massage, for instance, there is no organization in the United States that monitors alternative care providers or establishes standards of treatment.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Basically, almost anyone can claim to be a practitioner, whether he or she has any training. Perhaps the greatest risk, however, is the potential for people to delay or stop traditional medical treatment in favor of an alternative therapy. Illnesses such as diabetes and cancer require the care of a doctor.

Relying entirely on alternative therapies for any serious chronic or acute conditions can jeopardize a child's health.


Anxious kids can learn to relax with the help of meditation or yoga. Some CAM therapies may be helpful for a child when used to complement traditional care. If you want to try CAM for your child, talk with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure it is safe and will not conflict with any traditional care your child receives.

Your doctor also can give you information about treatment options and perhaps recommend a reputable practitioner. By coordinating complementary approaches with traditional care, you don't have to choose between them. Instead, you can get the best of both.

See a Problem?

For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

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