What Is CAM?
CAM stands for complementary and alternative medicine. “Complementary” refers to therapies used alongside conventional therapies, and “alternative” means medical practices that come from outside mainstream Western medicine. You may also hear the term “integrative medicine,” which refers to the practice of using therapies that treat mind and spirit as well as the body and which we'll explore in Chapter 16.
Many of these practices may seem new to Americans, but in reality they have been in use for thousands of years. Several factors have given rise to the growing popularity of CAM therapies. Many people turn to CAM because traditional treatments haven't produced satisfactory results. They may experiment with CAM out of curiosity or out of concern about the overuse of pharmaceutical medications. Some believe — sometimes mistakenly — that CAM therapies are safer and less likely to cause side effects. And a growing body of research is demonstrating the effectiveness of specific alternative therapies, giving credence to what some cultures have known for centuries, that some of these remedies can really work.
A survey by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the National Center for Health Statistics found that CAM is most popular among people suffering from chronic pain. The survey also found that women are more likely than men to use CAM therapies, which are generally more popular among people who are better educated, have been hospitalized in the past year, and are former smokers.
But not all therapies work for everyone. Most are used as complementary treatments, as adjuncts to traditional drug therapies, exercise, and lifestyle modifications. Some may provide only temporary relief. If you decide that you'd like to give complementary therapies a try, talk to your physician first and proceed with caution. Just because something is alternative and natural does not mean that it is definitely safe and effective.