CAM principles

The basic principles of CAM

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) describes a diverse group of healing systems that are not currently considered to be a part of mainstream medicine.

Although CAM therapies vary widely, the following themes can be traced throughout:

  • Prevention of illness is a primary concern.
  • Treatments are highly individualized.
  • Treatments are aimed at the causes of illness rather than at its symptoms.
  • Treatments are designed to support the natural healing processes of the body.
  • The focus is on the whole person – physical, emotional, social, and spiritual.

More and more Americans are turning to alternative medical care than ever before.

Alternative healing practices are increasingly being tested for effectiveness and safety in conventional controlled research studies. A landmark study published in 1993 found that more than one-third of Americans had sought CAM therapies, that in 1990 they had made more visits to CAM providers than to their primary care physicians, and that consumers had spent more than $13 billion out-of-pocket for these visits.

Demand for CAM services continues to grow at a startling rate. A 2001 survey found that nearly 70 percent of Americans have used at least one form of CAM therapy in their lifetime, making this “unconventional” medical approach one of the fastest growing sectors of American healthcare. Although herbs and supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), pharmacies across the country are experiencing a tremendous surge in the sales of these alternative remedies.

From 1991 to 1996 alone, the demand for over-the-counter natural remedies (including herbs and supplements) doubled. In a 1996 survey by Landmark Healthcare, more than 70 percent of HMOs reported an increase in requests for CAM by their members. Most patients (56 percent), requested acupuncture, followed by chiropractic (45 percent), massage (25 percent), acupressure and biofeedback (21 percent each), hypnotherapy (eight percent), and reflexology (four percent).

What are the major types of CAM?

  • Alternative Medical Systems: built upon complete systems of theory and practice. Examples include Ayurveda, homeopathy, naturopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
  • Biological Medicine: use of substances found in nature, such as foods, herbs, and vitamins to promote health.
  • Energy Medicine: involves the use of energy fields to promote health. Some forms of energy medicine (known as biofield therapies) are designed to influence energy fields that are believed to surround and penetrate the human body. Examples of biofield therapies include qi gong, Reiki, and Therapeutic Touch. Other forms of energy medicine (known as bioelectromagnetic-based medicine) involve the use of electromagnetic fields such as electroacupuncture.
  • Manual Medicine: based on manipulation and/or movement of one or more parts of the body. Examples include chiropractic, Feldenkrais, massage, osteopathy, physical therapy and reflexology.
  • Mind-Body Medicine: uses a range of techniques that help boost the mind’s ability to influence bodily functions and symptoms. Examples include biofeedback, deep relaxation, guided imagery, hypnotherapy, meditation, prayer, support groups, and yoga.

What is the future of CAM?

CAM is gradually becoming accepted into mainstream medicine. Breakthroughs in CAM research are frequently published in prestigious Western peer-reviewed journals such as the Annals of Internal Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association. Yet there are real obstacles to the achievement of truly integrated medicine. Some of these obstacles include administrative issues, cultural conflicts and lack of conventional controlled research. Because conventional doctors and CAM practitioners both seek to create safe, effective, and affordable medical treatment for all patients, the integration of the best CAM into conventional medicine is inevitable.