Show Summary Details
Page of

Complementary and alternative medicine 

Complementary and alternative medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine

E. Ernst

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD MEDICINE ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Medicine Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 28 April 2017

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can be positively defined as diagnosis, treatment, and/or prevention which complements mainstream medicine by contributing to a common whole, by satisfying a demand not met by orthodoxy, or by diversifying the conceptual frameworks of medicine. It is popular, hence doctors should know about it.

Why is CAM popular?

The following motivations may be important: (1) to leave no therapeutic option untried; (2) to take control over one’s own health; (3) to accord one’s health care with one’s global outlook; (4) to benefit from natural and, by implication, safe treatments; (5) to be given time, understanding, and empathy by a practitioner; (6) disenchantment with conventional medicine/science.

Types of CAM

The term covers a vast array of treatments and diagnostic techniques which have little in common except that they are not part of mainstream medicine. The most important modalities are (1) acupuncture—probably effective for some painful conditions and for nausea/vomiting; rarely causes severe adverse events. (2) Phytotherapy—treatment with herbal extracts; can be evaluated by assessing each of the many remedies separately; some phytomedicines are backed by sound evidence. (3) Homeopathy—based on irrational concepts of ‘like cures like’ and ‘potentizing’ (shaking and stepwise dilution of drugs); trial data fail to show efficacy for any condition. (4) Spinal manipulation—may be mildly effective for back pain as practised by chiropractors and other health care professionals; claims that it also works for many other conditions are not supported by sound evidence; can cause significant side effects, e.g. manipulation of the cervical spine causes transient adverse events in about half of all patients and has been associated with serious complications such as dissection of the vertebral artery.

Access to the complete content on Oxford Medicine Online requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts for each book and chapter without a subscription.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.