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What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

Decisions about your health care are important, including the decision about whether or not to use complementary and alternative medicine.  Today, approximately 38% of adults are using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in pursuit of health and wellness.  Defining this field can be difficult because it is a field that consists of several different treatment categories and is constantly changing.

The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) defines CAM as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products which are not usually considered part of conventional or Western medicine as we know it.  Conventional or Western medicine is medicine practiced by medical doctors (MD’s), doctors of osteopathic medicine (DO’s), and by allied health professionals such as physical therapists, registered nurses and psychologists.

To get a clearer picture of each I will discuss each one separately. Complementary medicine refers to the use of CAM along with conventional medicine.  For instance, using acupuncture in addition to physical therapy to treat and or alleviate pain.  Complementary medicine includes natural products, such as dietary supplements, herbs and probiotics, as well as mind and body practices, such as meditation, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic treatments and yoga.  This field can also include but is not limited to deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, hypnotherapy, progressive relaxation, qi gong, and tai chi (my personal favorite).

Alternative medicine refers to the use of CAM in place of conventional medicine.  In this instance the person may pursue Ayurveda (the traditional Hindu system of medicine which uses diet, herbal treatment and yogic breathing); Homeopathy (a system for the treatment of disease by minute doses of natural substances, that in a healthy person would produce symptoms of disease) or even Traditional Chinese medicine to name a few in place of conventional medicine.

Then, there is “Integrative Medicine” (IM) which combines treatments from conventional medicine and CAM for which there is some high quality evidence of safety and effectiveness.  Many Americans have never heard of integrative medicine, but this holistic movement has left its imprint on many of the nation’s hospitals, universities and medical schools.  Today, both doctors and patients alike are bonding with the philosophy of integrative medicine and its whole person approach to treatment; it is designed to treat the person, not just the disease.  The plan of care which is designed depends on the partnership between the patient and the doctor, and or healthcare provider, where the goal is to treat the mind, body and spirit, all at the same time.  While some of the therapies may be nonconventional, a guiding principle within integrative medicine is to use therapies that have some high quality evidence to support them.

With all the changes occurring in our healthcare system today and the ongoing research and breakthroughs in medicine; I think it is more important now than ever to be an informed consumer and fully accountable for your own health.  Gone should be the days when we leave our care in the hands of others, the time for accountability is now.  Here’s to your health!



By Being Latino Contributor, Maria G. Rodriguez, RN, BSN, CHHC,


About Being Latino Contributors

Being Latino contributors consists of individuals and partner organizations. They join us in our goal of providing our audience with a communication platform designed to educate, entertain and connect all peoples across the global Latino spectrum. Together we aim to break down barriers and foster unity and empowerment through informative, thought-provoking dialogue and exchanging of ideas. Giving a unified voice to the multitude of communities that identify with the multidimensional culture that is Latino.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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