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"complementary" means "in addition to." Complementary medicine is a term used for a wide variety of health care practices that may be used along with standard medical treatment.
What is considered standard treatment in one culture may not be standard
in another. For example:
Examples of complementary medicine include:
Some complementary practices have been studied and tested. But most haven't been studied with well-designed trials. That means there are still many questions about these practices. We often don't have good evidence from science about whether they are safe, when they should be used, and how well they work.
In the U.S., the National Center for Complementary and
Integrative Health was formed within the National Institutes of Health to
test the safety and effectiveness of these treatments. The center has
guidelines to help you choose safe treatments that are right for you.
People often use complementary practices along with care from their medical doctor to deal with chronic health problems, treat symptoms, or stay healthy.
Find out about the safety of any complementary product or practice you want to try. Most mind and body practices—such as acupuncture, meditation, and yoga—are very safe when used by healthy people with a well-trained professional. Choose an instructor or practitioner as carefully as you would choose a doctor.
Talk with your doctor about any complementary health practice that you would like to try or are already using. Your doctor can help you manage your health better if he or she has the whole picture about your health.
Some of these treatments may be covered by your health insurance. But check to see what your plan covers.
The greatest risk is that you
may use these treatments instead of going to your
regular doctor. Complementary medicine should be in addition to treatment from your doctor. Otherwise you may miss important
treatment that could save your life.
Some natural products may be safe when you take them on their own. But they may not be safe if you have other medical problems. And they could be dangerous when they are combined with another medicine you take. To be safe, always check with your doctor before you use any new natural products or supplements.
Natural products can vary widely in how
strong they are. And they may also contain harmful things not listed on the label. Your doctor or practitioner may be able to recommend a brand you can trust.
complementary medicine isn't controlled as much as standard medicine. This
means you could become a victim of fraud. Sellers or people who practice
complementary medicine are more likely to be frauds if they:
One benefit is that many
people who practice complementary medicine take a "whole person," or holistic,
approach to treatment. They may take an hour or more to ask you questions about
your lifestyle, habits, and background. This makes many people feel better
about the treatment, the person giving the treatment itself, and the
In some cases, this type of medicine works as well as
standard medicine. Also, these treatments
may cost less and have fewer side effects than standard treatment.
Some people feel more in control when they are more involved in their own
health. And since most complementary medicine looks at the connection
between mind and body, many people who use it feel better. They like working toward overall wellness instead of just relief from one problem.
Learning about complementary medicine:
Alternative health approaches:
Mind and body practices:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Alternative health approaches are a set of practices based on a philosophy different from Western
biomedicine. Most of these systems have evolved apart from and earlier than the
conventional medical system used in the United States.
These practices develop the
mind's ability to help the body to heal or keep itself well. Some of them, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, used to be considered
complementary medicine. But now they are a part of conventional medicine in the
Natural products are
substances found in nature that are used to help treat illness or promote wellness. They include
foods, vitamins, and both herbal and nonherbal dietary supplements.
Other Works Consulted
Micozzi MS (2011). Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 4th ed., St. Louis: Saunders.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2014). Complementary, alternative, or integrative health: What's in a name? National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam. Accessed July 2, 2014.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2014). Safe use of complementary health products and practices. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/safety. Accessed July 2, 2014.
Pizzorno JE, Murray MT (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., St. Louis: Mosby.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Current as ofMay 26, 2016
Current as of:
May 26, 2016
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
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