What is complementary medicine?
medicine, or complementary therapy, is generally used to maintain or improve
wellness and treat health problems. It is any health approach that is not a
part of your medical doctor's conventional practice and standard clinical care.
Therefore, what may be considered complementary or alternative in one culture
may be considered conventional or standard in another. For example:
- Acupuncture is standard in China but is
unconventional in the United States.
- Hypnosis is a standard part of
psychiatry and psychology, but it may be considered alternative when used in
the treatment of cancer.
Is research being done on complementary medicine?
Many complementary therapies have not yet been scientifically studied for
safety or effectiveness. Traditional research techniques may not be effective
or appropriate for studying certain complementary therapies, such as prayer or
music therapy, whose very nature makes them difficult to evaluate.
In the U.S., the National Center for Complementary and Alternative
Medicine was formed within the National Institutes of Health to test the safety
and effectiveness of complementary medical treatments. The center will develop
guidelines to help you choose safe and appropriate complementary
What are the risks of complementary medicine?
greatest risk of using complementary medicine is that you will not seek
diagnosis or treatment from a practitioner of conventional medicine.
Complementary medicine should enhance, or "complement," treatment from your
medical doctor. Avoiding conventional treatment can mean missing important,
even lifesaving, diagnosis and treatment.
There is also the
potential for dangerous interactions between complementary medicine and
conventional medicine. It is important that you consult your primary doctor
about any complementary therapy you are considering. The FDA regulates many
complementary medicines as "dietary supplements," but the potency of products
may vary greatly between manufacturers.
Since there is generally
less regulation of complementary medicine, you may risk becoming a victim of
health fraud or quackery. Be wary of practitioners who require large payments
up-front, promise quick and miraculous results, and warn you not to trust your
What are the benefits of complementary medicine?
One benefit of complementary medicine is in the holistic approach of many
of its practitioners. Many of them take an hour or more to ask you questions
about your lifestyle, habits, and background in order to get a better idea of
your overall health. Most complementary medicine practitioners and many medical
doctors use this "whole person" approach, which makes many people feel better
about their practitioners, their treatments, and their conditions.
In some cases complementary therapies work as well as conventional
therapies. For example, recent research shows St. John's wort can treat mild to
moderate depression but also moderate to severe depression as effectively as a
commonly prescribed antidepressant medication while causing fewer side
A person who seeks
complementary medicine often feels a sense of empowerment from being more
involved in maintaining his or her own health. And since most complementary
medicine emphasizes the connection between mind and body, many people who use
it feel better because they are working toward overall wellness instead of just
relief from a specific condition.
If you need more information, see the topic