Complementary & Alternative medicine

With more people interested in being more proactive about their own health, here are some helpful pointers about this area of complementary and alternative medicine.

  • Definition

    Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM) are treatments or therapeutic approaches that fall outside conventional medicine. Complementary medicine refers to practices that work alongside traditional or conventional therapies, whilst alternative medicine is used as a substitute for traditional therapy. Many CAM approaches are now widely used, eg yoga, meditation, osteopathy and massage.

  • Integrative medicine

    Integrative medicine is another category which combines CAM treatments with traditional Western therapies. Conventional medicine is also known as allopathic medicine, Western, mainstream, orthodox etc. Some conventional medical practitioners are also practitioners of CAM.

  • Categories of CAM

    There are five main categories of CAM which are widely recognised in this field:

    1. Mind-Body medicine eg meditation.
    2. Whole medical systems, eg Ayruveda, homeopathy and naturopathy.
    3. Manipulative & Body-based practices, eg chiropractic and osteopathy.
    4. Energy medicine, eg Reiki.
    5. Biologically-based practices, eg herbal medicine.
  • More about CAM

    CAM practitioners tend to focus on whole-person (holistic) treatments, addressing the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of health. The principle is to bring the body into balance. Treatments stimulate the body’s own resources and self-healing abilities. The focus is not just on intervention during ill health, but on maintaining good health.

    There are increasing numbers of scientific trials into the benefits of various practices: eg regular yoga sessions have proved to be effective in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as helping reduce episodes of atrail fibrillation (irregular heartbeat). Also, researchers from the University of California showed that tai chi sessions for older adults with major depression had “pretty dramatic” effects on reducing depression, as well as improving physical function and quality of life.

  • Choosing a therapist or practitioner

    The lack of official regulation governing complementary and alternative medicine can make it difficult to know if you are choosing the right therapist. You should check the details of any practitioner: relevant training and qualifications, memberships of professional bodies, how much experience they have had, and confirmation that they are insured to practice. Most professional bodies/organisations for therapists and practitioners will have a code of practice and a complaints procedure.

    Although relevant qualifications and professional membership can be good indicators of the quality of therapy you are likely to receive, they are not the only indicators of ability. Word-of-mouth recommendation is also very useful, but what helps one person may not necessarily help another. The gender of the therapist may be important to you. Check the cost of treatment, to ensure it is reasonable. If trying a therapy for the first time, ask the practitioner what to expect in terms of the treatment style etc.  Also, if the therapy involves taking any medicines, do check with your doctor that they will not cause any problems with any prescribed medication.

    Please note that the fact that a therapist or practitioner's details are displayed on our site does not imply personal or professional recommendation by Feelgood Bath. All site content is for information only. Health concerns should be discussed with your doctor/GP.

  • Taking responsibility for our own health

    Part of the growth of interest in CAM is due to the realisation that we all need to take responsibility for our own lifestyle and healthcare choices – we cannot assume that other people can ‘make’ us better; they can only support our health and wellbeing.  

    Although some pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plant substances that do have a considerable biological effect on our bodies, it can be worth asking your doctor more about your treatment. Conventional medicines can have their own dangers and short-comings, eg under-stated side effects of drugs, and some drugs are prescribed to patients in user-groups that have never been involved in the trials of that drug (eg over 65s, pregnant women or children). As health journalist Dan Roberts pointed out in The Independent: “Time and time again, these corporate giants [pharmaceutical companies] suppress studies that do not support the efficacy of their drugs, while funding and publishing the studies that do.”

    Interestingly, recent controlled trials into placebos (sugar pills) show that these can work too – sometimes as well as the drugs themselves. These studies are revealing that our expectations of healing (ie our thoughts and beliefs) are more powerful than anyone realised and can exert some influence over our health too.

    An integrative approach can be useful: introducing some CAM practices, in conjunction with appropriate lifestyle changes such as healthier nutrition and exercise, can help reduce the need for invasive surgery or medical drugs. Bear in mind that dietary supplements and herbal remedies can have side effects, or interact badly with prescription or over-the-counter medicines, so you should always take care and always check with your GP.