Complementary/Alternative Medicine (CAM)
“Modern medicine” – that is, mainstream medicine as it is practiced in America by family doctors, internists, gastroenterologists, oncologists, surgeons, rheumatologists, neurologists, OB/GYNs, nurses, anesthesiologists, etc. – is Allopathic in nature. Allopathy is the conventional drug and surgery protocols most of us grew up with and automatically accept. “Doctor knows best.” Typical examples of allopathic medicine include smallpox vaccinations, antibiotics, insulin injections, and surgery.
Complementary medicine uses non-allopathic remedies together with allopathic medicine. Typical examples of complementary medicine include eating yogurt after a course of antibiotics to replace friendly bacteria, drinking Noni juice to help balance insulin levels, and using aromatherapy after surgery to help alleviate discomfort.
Alternative medicine is used in place of allopathic medicine. Typical examples of alternative medicine include drinking unsweetened/unfiltered cranberry juice rather than taking an antibiotic for bladder infections, developing an individualized diet/herb regimen to help regulate insulin instead of taking shots or pills, and using a herb/olive oil/citrus juice protocol to soften and eliminate gallstones painlessly. Taking shark cartilage and/or adopting a dietary regimen to fight cancer instead of having chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery is a well-known and highly controversial alternative-medicine therapy.
Integrative medicine is defined as a combination of allopathic and CAM therapies where the CAM therapies have been scientifically shown to be both safe and effective. Typical examples include vitamin supplements, massage therapy, and certain dietary adjustments—all of which were originally discounted or belittled by the allopathic medical community but have now been adopted as mainstream protocols. Coenzyme Q10, for example, originally dismissed by the scientific world as pure quackery, is now endorsed by the National Cancer Institute to stimulate the immune system and to protect the heart from damage caused by certain chemotherapy drugs.
New ideas go through three stages.
First they are ridiculed.
Then they are violently opposed.
Finally, they are accepted as self-evident.
...Albert Einstein, physicist, Nobel laureate (1879-1955)
What Is Considered CAM?
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine breaks CAM into five categories:
Alternative Medical Systems, such as homeopathy, naturopathy, Chinese medicine including herbs and acupuncture, Ayurveda, and alternative diagnostics such as kinesiology and iridology.
Mind-Body Interventions, such as meditation, prayer, mental healing, aromatherapy, and creative therapies that use art, music, or dance.
Biologically Based Therapies, such as herbs, food supplements, vitamins, and as yet scientifically unproven therapies such as using shark cartilage to treat cancer.
Manipulative and Body-Based Methods, such as chiropractic or osteopathic manipulations, massage therapy, and reflexology.
Energy Therapies, such as qi gong, Reiki and therapeutic touch, as well as Bioelectromagnetic-based therapies that use pulsed fields, magnetic fields, or alternating- or direct-current fields.
Who Uses CAM?
Just about everybody!
At last count, over 123 million Americans use CAM therapies—and that number is growing every day.
More than 60% of mainstream doctors recommend complementary and/or alternative therapies to their patients—and more than half of them use CAM themselves!
CAM is now taught in such renowned medical schools as Harvard, Yale, and Johns Hopkins Medical Schools. In the future, the greatest number of CAM practitioners may be mainstream medical doctors!
Hospitals such as Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York are already creating onsite alternative medical clinics.
Mainstream medical doctors and research programs are spending more time and money on CAM research. To date, they have discovered that Noni juice impacts five types of cancer, that a naturopathic formula can manage cortisol, the hormone that affects stress-induced weight gain, and that a class of compounds in orange and tangerine peels shows promise as a potent, natural alternative for lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, without the possible liver disease and muscle weakness side effects that drugs can induce.
So… What’s The Catch?
Not all practitioners and “alternative medical doctors” are truly holistic.
Holistic means emphasizing the importance of the whole, and the interdependence of its parts.
The holistic approach to healthcare focuses on wellness rather than mere lack of disease. In other words, a holistic practitioner or doctor would not confine treatment to a specific problem, such as gallstones, but would address the individual’s entire mind/ body connection, also known as the mind/ body/ spirit or physical/ mental/ emotional/ spiritual aspects.
A holistic approach to health deals with the root cause of the problem. It involves the individual as an active participant in the decision-making process of what is best for him or her. And it incorporates all therapeutic avenues available for re-balancing the individual’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well being.
An MD who takes a series of weekend courses in acupuncture is merely adding another billable technique to his medical menu—not immersing himself in a holistic approach to healthcare.
By the same token, a prayer leader who discourages allopathic treatment for a child suffering from cerebral palsy is equally non-holistic.
Catch #2 – CAM is not as “easy” a mindset as traditional allopathic medicine.
One of the biggest disadvantages of allopathy is also one of its biggest attractions. You get quick symptomatic relief from someone who accepts total responsibility for providing that relief, be it by prescribing the correct drug or performing the appropriate surgery.
Whether you take prescription drugs or submit to a surgical procedure, your input regarding treatment is minimal. You may or may not have to make changes in your life, but they will be “ordered” by a “higher authority,” and, thus, you do not have any responsibility or control over feeling better. It’s in the doctors’ hands.
This mindset is very comfortable for most Americans. We are socialized to believe that doctors know best. We cannot possibly understand what is going on in our bodies as well as a trained medical professional. This mindset allows us to feel reassured when we put ourselves in an MD’s hands, especially one with a good reputation. We can feel confident that we will get the “best care available.”
If there are any other treatment possibilities, surely our doctor will let us know about it. If our doctor does not know of anything else, then it probably won’t help us—and might even cause harm. If our doctor does not approve or give serious credence to a CAM protocol we have heard about, then trying it is very risky, and could hurt or even destroy our chances of recovery. We have good reason to be afraid of trying something our doctor does not recommend or approve.
What’s more, we do not have to make any drastic, long-term changes in our lifestyle, except in response to treatment. If we take an antibiotic to get rid of an infection, the course of treatment is only ten days—then we can go back to life as normal. If we have to undergo surgery, once we’ve recovered…back to life as normal. If we’re left with a handicap from some drug, illness, or surgical procedure, we go through the normal grieving stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—then adapt to our new “normal” life. We’ll always have this pain. We’ll always have to take this pill, this injection, this therapy. Besides, everybody has trouble with their “blank” as they age: their vision, their vitality, their sex drive, their skin tone, their bladder control, their prostate, their cholesterol, their lung capacity… you name it.
And if someone becomes incapacitated or dies because of a treatment, well…we know who to sue! After all, we did what we were told to do, we followed all the doctors’ orders to a “T.” It’s someone else’s responsibility—someone else’s fault.
Complementary and alternative medicine requires an entirely different mindset.
It’s our responsibility—not to know all the answers, but to keep our bodies as healthy as we can so we have the best chance possible to avoid or recover from illness or injury. Which might mean lifestyle change.
It’s our responsibility to educate ourselves about the treatments available so we can make informed decisions about what happens to our body. This means not just asking our MD about possibilities, but reading books and magazines, exploring the Internet, and seeking out CAM practitioners who can provide complementary and alternative suggestions and treatments.
And, finally, it is our responsibility to make those permanent changes that will put us on the path toward renewed vitality and give us a fighting chance against disease.
The Worst Part of CAM Philosophy
When you do not feel well, nothing is more disheartening than to think you might be at fault, especially if you are facing a chronic, disabling, or life-threatening condition.
Blame + Pain = Depression & Despair
Regretfully, too many CAM articles, books, and practitioners tend to start with what you have done wrong before they explain what you can do to correct the situation.
BASTIS Foundation is dedicated to blameless education. In today’s world, you would have to be a hermit who has been hiding out in a cave for the last few decades not to know that smoking, fast foods, white flour, too many sweets, soda pop and a sedentary lifestyle are bad for you, and that vegetables, whole grains, fruit, fresh fish and daily exercise is good for you.
This website, like all BASTIS Foundation educational materials,
seminars, workshops, and retreats, focuses on providing “can do”
information, not “shouldn’t have” rebukes.
Where Can I Get More Information?
Dozens of sites provide information about complementary, alternative, and integrative medicine. You can start with:
World Health Online
Alternative Medicine Home Page
National Center for Complementary & Alternative medicine
Office of Cancer Complementary & Alternative Medicine
American Holistic Health Association
What Can I Do Right Now?
Click here for immediate suggestions for taking your first steps toward balanced wellness.
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The recommendations provided by this site are suggestions only, and not intended as replacement for medical care from a licensed physician or healthcare provider. For additional complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) advice, please seek out a local naturopathic physician, Chinese medical doctor, or qualified herbalist.
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