Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
Whole Medical Systems
Whole medical systems are built upon complete systems of theory and practice. Often, these systems have evolved apart from, and earlier than, the standard medical approach used in the United States. Examples of whole medical systems that have developed in non-Western cultures include traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. Examples of systems that have developed in Western cultures include homeopathic medicine and naturopathic medicine.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, is a healing system that dates back more than 5,000 years. It is based on the concept that disease results from disruption in the flow of vital energy, or qi (pronounced "chee") in the body. The flow of qi is maintained by keeping a balance in the two forces known as yin and yang. TCM uses specific principles to analyze symptoms—such as cold/heat, interior/exterior, excess/deficiency, and yin yang; and the theory of five elements—fire, earth, metal, water, and wood—to explain how the body works.
TCM uses a number of therapeutic approaches such as acupuncture and moxibustion, herbs and other natural products, and massage.
Acupuncture, Moxibustion and Herbs
Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points on the body by a variety of techniques, including the insertion of thin metal needles through the skin. It is intended to remove blockages in the flow of qi and restore and maintain health.
Moxibustion is the application of heat from the burning of an herb (usually mugwort) at the acupuncture point.
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Herbs and other natural products in TCM are usually used together in formulas to fit a person's specific condition.
Ayurveda (pronounced "i-yer-vay-duh"), which means "the science of life" in Sanskrit, originated in India and evolved there over thousands of years. Its goal is to prevent disease and promote well-being by bringing the body, mind, and spirit into balance. Ayurveda also proposes treatments for specific health problems.
Three types of energy called doshas are believed to form important characteristics of each person's body constitution and to control bodily activities. Imbalances in the doshas, which can be caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, diet, too little or too much mental or physical exertion, the weather, chemicals, or germs, can lead to illness.
Ayurvedic medicine relies on therapies such as diet, exercise, meditation, herbs, massage, cleansing, exposure to sunlight, and controlled breathing. The goals of treatment are to eliminate impurities, reduce symptoms, reduce worry, increase harmony in a person's life, and increase resistance to disease.
Homeopathy originated in Europe and has been practiced in the United States since the early 19th century. Its goal is to help the body heal itself by using very small doses of highly diluted substances that in larger doses would produce illness or symptoms. Most homeopathic remedies are derived from natural substances that come from plants, minerals, or animals.
A homeopathic practitioner selects treatments based upon a total picture of a person's health and evaluates not only physical symptoms but the emotions, psychological state, body type, genetic and personal health history, and other aspects. In homeopathy, different people with the same symptoms may receive different homeopathic remedies.
Like homeopathy, naturopathy originated in Europe, but it also includes ancient and modern therapies from other traditions. Naturopathy attempts to help the body heal itself, and naturopaths consider a person's physical, emotional, genetic, environmental, and social circumstances when evaluating treatment. The emphasis is on supporting health rather than fighting disease.
Practitioners of naturopathy prefer to use treatment approaches that they consider to be the most natural and least invasive, relying on methods other than standard medications and surgery. They focus on changes in diet and lifestyle and on preventing disease, together with CAM therapies such as herbs and massage.