Complementary and alternative medicine

What's considered an alternative therapy is a moving target. Get the facts about what CAM means and its changing role in health care.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Complementary medicine has never been more popular. Nearly 30 percent of adults report using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Doctors are embracing CAM therapies, too, often combining them with mainstream medical therapies — spawning the term "integrative medicine."

What are some examples of CAM therapies?

Exactly what's considered complementary medicine changes constantly as treatments undergo testing and move into the mainstream. To make sense of the many therapies available, it helps to look at how they're classified by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH):

  • Natural products
  • Mind and body practices
  • Other complementary health approaches

Natural products

Examples include dietary supplements and herbal remedies. These treatments use ingredients found in nature. Examples of herbs include ginseng, ginkgo and echinacea; examples of dietary supplements include selenium, glucosamine sulfate and SAMe. Herbs and supplements can be taken as teas, oils, syrups, powders, tablets or capsules.

Mind and body practices

Mind-body techniques strengthen the communication between your mind and your body. CAM practitioners say these two systems must be in harmony for you to stay healthy. Examples of mind-body connection techniques include meditation, prayer, relaxation and art therapies.

Manipulation and body-based practices use human touch to move or manipulate a specific part of your body. They include chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation and massage.

Some CAM practitioners believe an invisible energy force flows through your body, and when this energy flow is blocked or unbalanced, you can become sick. Different traditions call this energy by different names, such as chi, prana and life force. The goal of these therapies is to unblock or re-balance your energy force. Energy therapies include qi gong, healing touch and reiki.

Oct. 24, 2017 See more In-depth