Complementary and Alternative Medicine, or (CAM), refers to any system of medicine not traditionally used by Western physicians, osteopaths, nurses, nurse practitioners and other support staff.
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In some cases, it is because these methods or medicines have not been objectively and scientifically proven to be effective. However, in many cases, the classification of a medical discipline as complementary or alternative is simply because it is not a part of larger Western culture and medical thought.
Ayurveda is one such example, as are both acupuncture and acupressure. In the first case, this is a medicinal system used successfully for thousands of years in India and the Middle East, while acupuncture and acupressure have been used for millennia throughout Asia.
While many laypersons lump complementary and alternative medicines together, there is a distinct difference between them. Alternative medicine refers to a whole host of disciplines, both ancient and modern, meant to replace Western medicine. Complementary medicines are designed to work with Western medicine rather than simply replacing it.
Before choosing to add any type of complementary medicine to your overall treatment plan, there are three things that you should know about it.
Many Types Of Complementary Medicine Offer Scientifically Proven Results
In the United States, the National Institutes of Health created the National Center for Complementary Medicine in 1988 to study and document the effectiveness of non-Western medical treatments and disciplines.
Research has shown that certain types of complementary or alternative medicines, such as music therapy or prayer, are very difficult to study because the results are nearly impossible to measure and depend on subjective feelings.
Other types of complementary medicine, however, such as aromatherapy, offer concrete findings. One 2009 study in Korea showed that aromatherapy measurably reduced stress levels of female high school students and other studies suggest that exposure to lavender essential oils for no more than one hour can lower blood pressure in those at risk for hypertension.
Complementary Medicine Works Best When Used With Western Medicine
One of the most common times when Western and complementary medicine come together is in the treatment of cancer. The majority of cancer treatments being used today cause mild to severe nausea. Many Western doctors recommend acupuncture as a way to ease the nausea caused by harsh cancer treatments.
Pregnancy can exacerbate the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, and most pain medications are not safe for pregnant women to use. Acupuncture and acupressure can ease this pain with no risk to the unborn child, though it cannot replace Western prenatal care.
There Are Risks Attached
Many proponents of complementary medicine tout it as being perfectly safe, but just as with anything having to do with your health this is not always the case. Most times, it is not the complementary medicine that is the danger alone, but the fact that it is being combined with Western medicine that causes the risks.
For example, a practitioner of complementary medicine may urge you to use grapefruit juice to help you lose weight. Grapefruit juice has been scientifically proven to help regulate blood sugar levels when taken before consuming refined starches, so grapefruit juice can be a useful tool for those who must lose weight quickly to avoid the risk of diabetes, heart attack or a stroke.
The problem? Grapefruit juice also interferes with glaucoma medications, so it is crucial to tell your complementary practitioner and your Western physician about all of the things you are doing to improve your health so that they can work together instead of unintentionally against each other.
Your best bet in integrating Complementary medicine into your overall healthcare regimen is to do your research and talk to your medical practitioners, both Western and complementary, so that they can design and monitor a treatment plan that is right for you.