When Western Medicine Fails

If you're curious about complementary and alternative medicine, you're not alone. A majority of Americans use some sort of or alternative treatment. According to the National Center Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), half of who try CAM do so because they think it would be interesting.

A 2002 study by researchers at Ohio State University found that 62 percent of adults use alternative medicine, including chiropractic, acupuncture, massage therapy, breathing exercises, herbal medicine, and meditation. The data, based on survey responses from 848 people, showed that chiropractic was the most common, while acupuncture was the least common.

Similarly, according to information released by NCCAM in 2004, 36 percent of people in the United States used some form of complementary or alternative medicine in 2001. When prayer and megavitamin therapy are included, that figure rises. More women than men use CAM, as do people with higher levels of education.

Types of Complementary Medicine

Complementary medicine is used in conjunction with conventional medicine. Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional treatments. NCCAM developed five categories for CAM practices:

  1. Biologically based practices use herbs, special diets, vitamins (in doses outside those used in conventional medicine).

  2. Energy medicines use energy fields, such as magnetic fields or bio fields (energy fields that some believe surround and penetrate the human body). These practices include Reiki, magnetic therapy, the Chinese practice of Qigong, light therapy, homeopathy, and therapeutic touch.

  3. Manipulative and body-based practices involve manipulation or movement of one or more body parts; they include chiropractic, reflexology, Rolfing, and massage.

  4. Mind-body medicine enhances the mind's ability to affect bodily function and symptoms through practices such meditation and yoga.

  5. Whole medical systems are complete systems of theory and practice, such as Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine (from India), naturopathy, and homeopathy.

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