Complementary medicine refers to non-mainstream practice used together with conventional medicine while alternative medicine refers to a non-standardized practice used in place of conventional medicine

Complementary medicine refers to non-mainstream practice used together with conventional medicine while alternative medicine refers to a non-standardized practice used in place of conventional medicine. (NIH, 2018). Complementary and alternative medicine are often used to describe a wide variety of products or practices that are used outside standard Western Medical practice for treating disease and incorporates a wide variety of beliefs. A physician prescribing biofeedback in addition to standard medicines to treat symptoms of chronic headache would be using a complementary approach while another physician who uses only herbal preparation to treat these headaches rather than use conventional means would be using an alternative approach. (Falvo,2011).

Integrative Medicine, on the other hand, is holistic care that addresses the full range of influences that affect the patient’s health such as physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and environmental factors. Complementary medicine includes two main groups, namely; natural products and mind and body practices. Natural products include botanical herbs, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics. Mind and body practices refer to yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, meditation, deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, therapeutic touch, Tai Chi, massage therapy, music therapy, chiropractic, and osteopathic manipulation. Mind-body therapies affect the mind’s ability to influence physiological functions, improve feelings of well-being, and are used increasingly in cancer care settings because of recent evidence that they enhance the quality of life of these patients. (University of Manitoba, 2020). The use of herbal medicines is much more controversial because there is inadequate knowledge regarding their mode of action, efficacy, side effects, contraindications, and adverse interactions, particularly when used with conventional drugs. Public safety is a major concern with the use of herbal drugs.

According to Bishop and Lewith, (2010) there is reasonably consistent research evidence that CAM users tend to be educated, middle-aged females with more than one medical condition as indicated by a number of bivariate tests based on whether gender and or education is associated with CAM use. However, people across all aspects of society, gender and socioeconomic status use CAM for a wide range of physical and psychological conditions, and some without any specific conditions use it for health maintenance. The use of vitamins and mineral supplements have become commonplace in many households. Massage has also become a popular therapy recognized by health professionals and patients as beneficial for reducing anxiety, stress, depression, and fatigue.


Bishop, F., Lewith, G. (2010). Who uses cam? A narrative review of demographic characteristics and health factors associated with cam use.

Falvo, D. (2011). Effective patient education. A guide to increased adherence.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, (2012). Complementary alternative or integrative health. What’s in a name?

University of Manitoba. ( 2020). Complementary alternative and integrative medicine.


CAM stands for complementary and alternative medicines. These are medicines, treatments, or health practices that are not traditional in health care or utilized as a first choice treatment for an illness (Bishop & Lewith, 2010). CAM is usually used instead of the standard treatment offered. Some examples of CAM options includes meditation, yoga, massage, acupuncture, prayer group, biofeedback, herbalism, etc. Evidence has shown that the typical person that uses CAM is usually middle age females, that might have more than one medical condition (Bishop & Lewith, 2010). However, thinking about my personal practice and experience with patients, CAM has become more popular and used by a variety of individuals, regardless of their gender, age, or medical conditions. I have seen that some providers hesitate to offer or talk about CAM because it still isn’t considered traditional or conventional health care. I am a psych and addiction medicine nurse that has experience working in facilities where they offer these type of services and it is actually a part of the treatment plan. CAM is not commonly used in health care because it seems to be most effective for side effects of illnesses or treatments like radiation or chemotherapy. It is not for every patient, but I personally think everyone should have the option or education provided about CAM.


Bishop, F. L., & Lewith, G. T. (2010). Who Uses CAM? A Narrative Review of Demographic Characteristics and Health Factors Associated with CAM Use. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM7(1), 11–28.

The Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States: Cost data [PDF].

(2007). National Institutes of Health.

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