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Alternative Medicine

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is the Federal Government’s lead agency for scientific research on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). They define Complementary and Alternative medicines in the following way:

  • Complementary Medicine: Used together with conventional medicine. An example of a complementary therapy is using aromatherapy to help lessen a patient’s discomfort following surgery.
  • Alternative Medicine: Used in place of conventional medicine. An example of an alternative therapy is using a special diet to treat cancer instead of undergoing surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy that has been recommended by a conventional doctor.
  • Integrative Medicine: Combines treatments from conventional medicine and CAM for which there is some high-quality evidence of safety and effectiveness. It is also called integrated medicine.
Category of Complementary and Alternative Medicine What it is Types of Therapies Included
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 conventional medical approach used in the United States.
  • Acupuncture
  • Ayurveda
  • Homeopathy
  • Native American healing practices
  • Naturopathic medicine
  • Tibetan medicine
  • Traditional Chinese medicine
Mind-Body Interventions Mind-body medicine uses a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind’s capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. Some techniques that were considered alternative in the past have become mainstream (for example, patient support groups and cognitive-behavioral therapy).
  • Art therapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Dance therapy
  • Guided imagery
  • Humor therapy
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Meditation
  • Music therapy
  • Prayer therapy
  • Yoga
Biologically Based Practices Biologically based therapies in complementary and alternative medicine use substances found in nature, such as herbs, foods, and vitamins.
  • Diet
  • Dietary supplements
  • Herbal products
  • Megavitamins
Manipulative and Body-Based Practices Manipulative and body-based methods in complementary and alternative medicine are based on manipulation and/or movement of one or more parts of the body.
  • Acupressure
  • Alexander Technique
  • Chiropractic
  • Feldenkrais Method
  • Massage therapy
  • Osteopathy
  • Reflexology
  • Rolfing
  • Therapeutic Touch
  • Trager Approach
Energy Therapies Energy therapies involve the use of energy fields. There are two types:

  • Biofield Therapies: Intended to affect energy fields that surround and penetrate the human body. The existence of such fields has not yet been scientifically proven. Some forms of energy therapy manipulate biofields by applying pressure and/or manipulating the body by placing the hands in, or through, these fields.
  • Bioelectromagnetic-based Therapies: Involve unconventional use of electromagnetic fields, such as pulsed fields, magnetic fields, or alternating-current or direct-current fields.
Biofield Therapies:

  • Qi gong
  • Reiki
  • Therapeutic Touch

Bioelectromagnetic-based Therapies:

  • Pulsed fields
  • Magnetic fields
  • Alternating-current or direct-current fields
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