There is no single definition of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Most definitions refer to these practices as "unconventional", usually meaning that they are not routinely offered within the context of current western biomedicine. Hence, an endless variety of modalities might fit under this definition, including spiritual approaches (and spirituality itself), as well as social approaches (like group support). To complicate things further, each modality can be practiced in a large variety of ways with a large variety of philosophical underpinnings and presumed mechanisms of action. We are interested in hearing about your experiences with any modality that you feel fits in this category, even if it is not referred to anywhere on our website. The following definitions may help you report your experience to us.
Acupuncture/Acupressure: Acupuncture, as a therapeutic intervention, originated more than 4,000 years ago from the medical practices of the Chinese and other Asian cultures. Traditional Chinese Medicine uses acupuncture to regulate the flow of Qi, or "vital energy." The insertion and manipulation of needles, or the application of pressure at specific points along the meridians or channels through which Qi is thought to flow, is believed to correct any imbalance, excess, deficiency, or lack of fluidity in the flow of Qi. In the West, some practitioners deliver acupuncture in the context of a broader Asian health care system; others offer it as a discrete technique for treating symptoms.
Ayurvedic Medicine: Ayurveda, first described
in Vedic religious scriptures dating from 1200 BCE., is considered the
traditional medicine of India. Central to Ayurvedic philosophy is the
belief that optimal health consists of physical, mental, and spiritual
harmony. The pathway to harmony depends on the individual's predominant
dosha, or constitution. Ayurvedic practitioners interview new patients
in great detail about their personal as well as medical history. The four
pillars of Ayurvedic health maintenance are: (1) cleansing and detoxification,
(2) palliation, (3) rejuvenation, and (4) mental and spiritual hygiene.
Diet is an important concern in Ayurveda, but specific dietary recommendations
depend on the individual's primary constitution, and vary according to
the season. Treatment may include dietary modification, herbal preparations,
massage, yoga, meditation, and pranayama, or breathing exercises.
Homeopathy: Contemporary Western homeopathic medicine, based on the work of the German physician and chemist Samuel Hahnemann some 200 years ago, aims to stimulate the individual's innate healing processes through the administration of minute "homeopathic" dilutions of specific remedies. Derived from the Greek homeo, meaning same, and pathos, meaning suffering, homeopathy essentially treats "like with like". The patient describes his or her symptoms in detail, with equal emphasis placed on both physical and psychological symptoms. The practitioner then prescribes very small, nontoxic doses of a selected substance that, at higher doses, would produce the same symptoms in a healthy person.
Traditional Chinese Medicine: The system of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) originated from Taoism some 4,000 years ago and, like other traditional systems, goes beyond prevention and treatment of disease. Health care is viewed as one of several means to a good life--defined as the individual's harmonious interaction with the community and with the physical and spiritual environment.
Central to this ethos is the notion of Qi, usually translated as "vital energy" or "life force." Qi encompasses that which distinguishes life from death, animate from inanimate. Although considered to be the substantive element in living systems, Qi is believed to permeate all of space. The body is thought to contain a supply of Qi, unique to each individual, that flows through circular channels or meridians and is exchanged with the Qi in one's surroundings. Optimal health is said to result from an unobstructed flow and appropriate balance of Qi.
A second essential element of TCM is the concept of yin and yang.
The terms refer to the Taoist concept of the interrelationship and interdependence
of opposites. Although yin and yang are often used to refer
to such opposites as hot and cold or male and female, the TCM practitioner
uses them to describe the functions of organs and organ systems, illnesses
and conditions, and treatments.
Although TCM is most commonly used in the West to treat illness, its
essential purpose is to promote health and to prevent health problems.
Methods include diet, exercise (Tai Chi and internal
Qi Gong), the use of herbs, acupuncture,
Dietary and Nutritional Therapies: Dietary and nutritional considerations are fundamental to many complementary and alternative healing approaches. Many non-Western cultural traditions make little distinction between medicine and food because diet is fundamental to health. Alternative and complementary dietary and nutritional modalities include macrobiotics, vegetarianism, orthomolecular medicine, and individualized dietary programs. Macrobiotics, based on Asian concepts of nutrition, tailors diet to both individual needs and the season. Vegetarian health diets vary widely: some exclude all animal products, whereas others include milk and/or eggs and/or fish. Many nutritional counselors support the use of supplements to replace nutrients that may be lacking in the diet. Other nutritional practitioners develop individualized dietary advice for clients, basing their recommendations on an analysis of the individual's unique metabolic characteristics.
Energetic Therapies: The term "energetic therapies" is used to describe practices, including Reiki, external Qi Gong, therapeutic touch, and bioenergetics, that involve nonlocal interactions -- that is, interactions in which there is relatively little or no physical contact between the practitioner and the patient. Some of these practices originated in non-Western cultures. Others were developed in the West but show the influence of non-Western concepts. In Reiki, healing is felt to be facilitated by a light, non-invasive touch, but can also occur at a distance through intention. Energetic therapies generally include non-tactile, non-contact interactions between practioner and patient to effect healing. In some, the practitioner may use information garnered from other senses to assess and treat the patient's condition. Traditional Chinese Medicine, for example, uses this approach to detect and release Qi.
Massage Therapy: Massage is a systematic manual application of pressure and movement to the soft tissue of the body-- the skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia (the membrane surrounding muscles and muscle groups). It is felt to encourage healing by promoting the flow of blood and lymph, relieving tension, stimulating nerves, and stretching and loosening muscles and connective tissue to keep them elastic. In the 5th century BCE, the Greek physician Hippocrates wrote that his colleagues should be experienced "in rubbing ... for rubbing can bind a joint that is too loose, and loosen a joint that is too rigid." Various forms of massage were also employed by the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, and Romans. However, the technique as we know it today didn't appear until the late 19th century when Per Henrik Ling, a Swedish gymnast, formulated the principles of Swedish massage.
Dozens of specialized massage techniques are in use today for the treatment of anxiety, tension, depression, insomnia, and stress, as well as back pain, headache, muscle pain, and some forms of chronic pain. Massage is also frequently used for the treatment of minor sports injuries and repetitive stress injuries, and for the enhancement of physical conditioning.
Mind-Body Approaches (including yoga): The term mind-body is used to describe practices such as guided imagery, meditation, relaxation techniques, biofeedback, and hypnosis, that involve self-responsibility and use the relationship between mind and body to promote health. They are based on the concept that thoughts, mental images, and feelings can be major determinants of physical health. Despite the use of bodily positions (hatha yoga) yoga is perhaps best considered a mind-body practice since it includes meditation and breathing exercises to achieve mental attitudes associated with health and healing. This category could also include Tai Chi, an ancient form of meditative exercise originating in China which, though characterized by slow, smooth movements, has a strong mental component.
Western Herbalism: Herbal medicine is an ancient form of health care. As complementary and alternative medicine grows in popularity, botanical products derived from Western plants are coming back into widespread use. Western herbalism classifies many herbs according to their opposing activity: for example, herbs may have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, or hypotensive effects. Additional terms describe a supportive action: for example, adaptogenic herbs (those that increase resilience and resistance); tonics (supportive of vital energy); and emmenagogues (supporting the female reproductive system). Herbal preparations may be prescribed for ingestion as teas, as capsules or tablets, or as extracts or tinctures. Herbs may also be prepared as essential oils to be used topically, as are herbal preparations made into salves, balms, or ointments. Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda include ancient traditions of herbal medicine distinct from western herbalism.
Other: There is no single definition of complementary
and alternative medicine. Most definitions refer to these practices as
"unconventional", usually meaning that they are not routinely
offered within the context of current western biomedicine. Hence, an endless
variety of modalities might fit under this definition, including spiritual
approaches (and spirituality itself), as well as social approaches like
group support.To complicate things further, each modality can be practiced
in a large variety of ways with a large variety of philosophical underpinnings
and presumed mechanisms of action. We are interested in hearing about
your experiences with any modality that you feel fits in this category,
even if it is not referred to anywhere on our website.
Human disease and illness is conceptualized in various ways by different societies and cultural groups within societies. Usually symptoms (effects of disease which are experienced by the person with the disease) are organized into systems based on the culture's beliefs about how the body works.
Western medicine tends to organize diseases by anatomical organ system (cardiac, endocrine, pulmonary, gastrointestinal, rheumatology/connective tissue disease, nervous/brain, urinary/reproductive, hematologic), and/or by cause (for example, cancers or infections). The same symptom can be ascribed to several different diseases; for example, wheezing can be a symptom of congestive heart failure, asthma, or emphysema. In addition, a single disease, like lupus or congestive heart failure, is associated with a list of diverse symptoms.
In the outline below we use a simplified Western medicine model, dividing diseases into organ systems, after first listing the two major classification categories based on cause (cancers and infections). These major groups are then further broken down producing a list of disease names. This definition/classification page may help when you report your experience.
While we are primarily interested in documenting "cures" of serious disease using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), we first want to collect a broader range of case studies showing how CAM helped. We will choose cases for further investigation from this large number of possibly relevant case reports (see why participate.)
It is important for us all to realize that a major obstacle in the study
of health and healing is that different individuals and cultural groups
may conceptualize symptoms and diseases differently. They may also place
different values on the relief of different symptoms, and have different
ways of evaluating substantial improvement and overall quality of life.
We may find that this study helps elucidate such differences. In any case,
we are concerned that these differences may result in an under-reporting
and under-appreciation of effective therapies. If you have experienced
substantial relief using CAM from any symptom, illness, or disease which
you consider serious, debilitating, or life threatening, we ask you to
report your experience. If, while filling out the "report
your experience" page, you cannot find a category for your illness
here on this definition/classification page, just enter your experience
into "other," providing whatever description you would like.
In this way we hope to minimize the effect of cultural barriers on the
under-reporting and under-appreciation of therapies which people have
Diseases by System-excluding cancers and infections
Connective Tissue/Musculoskeletal (Muscles, Joints and Bones)
Gastrointestinal (Stomach, Intestines, Etc.)