Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Overview
When you're sick, you visit a doctor with an MD after his name. And you may leave the office with a prescription. Your doctor -- and the medication he prescribes -- is considered part of conventional medicine.
If you also visit a chiropractor or acupuncturist for treatment, you'd be in the field of complementary and alternative medicine. It's called "CAM" for short.
By Helen Kirwan-Taylor
Many years ago I had a falling-out with a girlfriend that proved so painful, I can hardly talk about it today. My friend (let's call her Mary) was a colorful television personality and had the world at her feet. She was engaged to a handsome European, and her face was plastered across the newspapers. I was working for 60 Minutes at the time, and we often met for lunch. Then one day her show was canceled and she asked me - casually, as though it didn't really matter...
CAM tries to prevent and treat different conditions with techniques such as:
Many CAM therapies have been around for centuries. But do they really work?
There is research to show that some CAM techniques can help with problems like pain and nausea. But other alternative therapies don't have enough medical evidence to determine if they are effective.
Before you try CAM, read this overview. Learn which treatments might actually help you feel better -- and which ones may not be worth the money.
What it is: This traditional Chinese medicine technique uses thin needles to stimulate various points around the body. Each point corresponds to a specific condition. The aim of acupuncture is to restore a balance of energy and good health to the body.
The evidence: Many of acupuncture's benefits still haven't been confirmed. That's because more studies on acupuncture need to be performed. But evidence suggests that acupuncture holds promise for relieving vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy. It also may help ease some chronic pain conditions, including:
low back pain
osteoarthritis of the knee
What it is: Chiropractors specialize in adjustments -- manipulating the spine to put the body into better alignment. People typically visit the chiropractor when they have pain in their lower back, shoulders, and neck. But many chiropractors claim adjustments can also improve overall health.
The evidence: Chiropractic medicine does seem to provide some relief for lower back pain. But it may not be any better than other back pain treatments.
Studies have also found the technique effective for:
migraine and neck-related headaches
But there isn't much data on the effectiveness of chiropractic medicine for some general medical conditions. For example, there's no solid evidence that it can treat asthma, high blood pressure, menstrual pain, or fibromyalgia.
Energy therapies use magnets and therapeutic touch to manipulate the body's energy fields and improve health.
Here's a round-up of some common energy therapies:
Magnetic Field Therapy
What it is: Magnets are thought by some to have healing abilities. Centuries ago, people believed magnets could treat everything from gout to baldness. Today, they're worn inside bracelets, shoes, and other accessories.
The evidence: There's no conclusive evidence that magnets are effective pain relievers.
A small study has shown that a magnet therapy called transcranial magnetic stimulation may aid recovery in certain stroke survivors. The results are preliminary. More study is needed to see if the therapy is effective.
Magnets are generally safe. But they can disrupt the function of pacemakers, defibrillators, and insulin pumps. That makes them potentially dangerous for anyone who uses these devices.