Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
What is CAM?
Today many people use complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, for a wide variety of diseases or conditions, and use of CAM has increased in recent years. But what exactly is CAM, and how is it different from standard medical care?
CAM refers to medical systems, practices, or products that are not thought of as standard care. Standard medical care is care that is based on scientific evidence and accepted by conventional medicine.
Complementary medicine is used together with standard medical care. An example is using acupuncture to help with side effects of cancer treatment.
Alternative medicine is used in place of standard medical care. An example is treating heart disease with chelation (pronounced "kee-lay-shen") therapy (which seeks to remove excess metals from the blood) instead of using a standard approach.
A related concept, "integrative medicine," is a total approach to care that combines standard medical treatments with CAM practices that have shown the most promise. An example is taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement in addition to a prescription statin medication to reduce cholesterol.
Some experts group CAM practices into broad categories, such as natural products, manipulative and body-based practices, and mind-body medicine.
These categories sometimes overlap.
Whole Medical Systems
Another term, "whole medical systems," refers to complete systems of care that have evolved over time in different cultures and parts of the world. Whole medical systems may include practices from the three categories mentioned above.