What are alternative medicines and treatments?
There is a lot of debate about what should be included in alternative medicine and treatments. There are even many different names for this kind of medicine and treatment to go by—non-traditional medicine, homeopathic medicine, or you might hear the name complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM is often the formal term used for it. These medicines and treatments can range from herbal supplements to chiropractic care, eating chicken soup for a cold, acupuncture or yoga. Basically, CAM covers everything that doesn’t fit into Western (also called “conventional”) medicine.
CAM is used and may be helpful for many ailments—both physical and mental—such as stress, colds, headaches, and even diseases like cancer.
Are alternative medicines or treatments an option for me?
Commonly, these non-traditional medicines or treatments can be used on their own or combined with Western or conventional medicines. However, the use of some alternative medicines is very controversial. Some medical doctors do not believe in their use and may discourage it. Others will only use or suggest them if it is proven to actually help people through research studies. The problem is that there aren’t many studies to check out whether non-traditional medicines or treatments work.
The best way to make an informed decision is to talk to your doctor about the type of treatment you are considering. You can also consult with an alternative medicine practitioner. You should never try alternative medicine or treatment without consultation. You should also tell your doctor about medications you are currently taking to make sure that the CAM treatment you might be considering wouldn’t have a dangerous reaction with your current medication.
You can also call the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clearinghouse (1-888-644-6226). They provide publications and searches of the scientific literature on CAM, including topics such as “Selecting a CAM Practitioner” or “Are You Considering Using CAM?”, but they do not offer medical advice, treatment recommendations or referrals.