complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)Last updated
CAM is an approach to medicine that falls outside “conventional” practice. Common types of CAM include natural products (botanicals, essential oils, etc.), mind and body practices (yoga, acupuncture, etc.), and spiritual healing (Ayurvedic medicine, reiki, etc.). When a practice is used alongside traditional treatments (such as doing both psychotherapy and meditation for stress), it is called complementary medicine. When a practice is done instead of traditional treatment (such as taking herbal supplements instead of medication), it is called alternative medicine.
CAMs have different levels of benefit and risk. Some, like yoga, have a library of scientific research supporting their effectiveness and little risk of harm. Other approaches, like St. John’s wort supplementation, have some supporting research but also pose significant risk if used incorrectly.
Since this field is so diverse, making blanket statements about CAM being “pseudoscience” can be misleading. Sometimes media coverage creates a false dichotomy, with modern, Western, “evidence-based” medicine on one side and traditional, Eastern, “alternative” medicine on the other. Judgment about the efficacy of these types of treatments is often rooted in racist depictions of Eastern cultures as superstitious, in contrast to the “rational” West. Many modern pseudoscientific practices originate in Western countries (even if the practitioners pretend they originated in Eastern cultures to market their product).
Complementary and alternative medicine is a form of treatment that is not part of mainstream medical care. That said, making blanket statements about CAM being “pseudoscience” can create a false dichotomy, with modern, Western, “evidence-based” medicine on one side and traditional, Eastern, “alternative” medicine on the other.