Major Domains of CAM

Posted on Nov. 7, 2003, 12:50 p.m. in Functional Medicine

Major Domains of Complementary and Alternative Medicine

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the widespread therapies that comprise complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can be grouped into the following domains:

Alternative Medical Systems- Alternative medical systems generally involve practices that have evolved independent of and often prior to conventional medicine. Many are traditional systems of medicine that are practiced by individual cultures throughout the world.

For example, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) emphasizes the proper balance of qi (pronounced chi), or vital energy, to ensure health. In order to achieve proper balance, TCM practices often include acupuncture, herbal medicine, and oriental massage. Ayurveda (meaning "science of life") is India's traditional system of medicine that places equal emphasis on body, mind, and spirit. The goal of Ayurveda involves restoring harmony and balance to the entire individual. Ayurvedic treatments may include diet, exercise, meditation, herbs, massage, exposure to sunlight, and controlled breathing.

Alternative medical systems also include homeopathic and naturopathic medicine. Homeopathic medicine is largely based on the principle that "like cures like." This means that the same substance that in large doses produces the symptoms of an illness, in very small doses cures it. Homeopathic professionals believe that the more dilute the remedy, the greater its strength in treating a variety of illnesses. Therefore, homeopathic professionals use very small doses of assorted plant extracts and minerals to stimulate the body's defense mechanisms and help treat illness.

Naturopathic medicine is one of many forms of CAM that emphasize whole-patient wellness and preventive care. Naturopathy combines current health care procedures with deep-rooted natural and non-toxic therapies. Naturopathic professionals believe that the body has the ability to naturally heal itself and emphasize health restoration instead of disease treatment. Naturopathic treatment may include instruction on proper diet, exercise, and the use of various herbs and nutrients.

Mind-Body Interventions- Mind-body interventions use a variety of techniques designed to assist the mind's ability to affect bodily function and symptoms. In recent years, cognitive-behavioral approaches have become "medically mainstream." Other approaches include meditation, hypnosis, dance, music, art therapy, and prayer.

Biological-based Therapies- Biologically-based therapies are believed to prevent and control illness as well as promote health. These therapies may include herbs and special nutritional supplements.

Manipulative and Body-based Methods- Manipulative and body-based therapies include chiropractic, osteopathy, and massage therapy. Chiropractors focus on how the structure and functions of the body affect the restoration and preservation of health. Like many CAM professionals, doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.s) focus on preventive health care: instead of just treating specific symptoms of illnesses, they assess the overall health of their patients. D.O.s receive extra training in the musculoskeletal system-the system of nerves, muscles, and bones that make up two-thirds of the body's mass-because they feel that in order to maintain health, all of the body's systems must work together. Massage therapists manipulate the soft tissues of the body in hopes of stabilizing these tissues.

Energy Therapies- Energy therapies focus on energy fields that either originate within the body (biofields) or from other sources (electromagnetic fields). Biofield therapies are intended to affect the energy fields that surround and penetrate the body. Some forms of biofield therapies include qigong and Reiki, which manipulate biofields by applying pressure to the body, moving and/or manipulating the body, regulating the breathing, channeling spiritual energy, and identifying energy imbalances.

Electromagnetic-based therapies involve the use of electromagnetic fields, such as pulsed fields, magnetic fields, alternating current, and/or direct current fields. These therapies have been known to support the relief of asthma, cancer, and migraine headaches.


Major Domains of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (n. d.). Retrieved February 8, 2002, from http://nccam.nih.gov/fcp/classify/


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