Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why is complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) called complementary and alternative medicine when in reality, it came before western medicine?

In doing research for a new book, I asked myself the above question.  So why is CAM or complementary and alternative techniques (CAT) called alternative?  One website stated because CAM or CAT fall outside of the realm of conventional medicine.  CAM/CAT complements traditional or western medicine.  Wait.  If many of the components of CAM/CAT came before western medicine, then shouldn’t CAM/CAT actually be the traditional medicine and western medicine be viewed as an alternative?

According to the Mayo Clinic, complementary medicine means that it is used along with conventional medicine.  Alternative indicates that it is a therapy used in place of conventional medicine.  Often they are used interchangeably.  Integrative medicine uses the best of conventional medicine and the best of CAM/CAT.  My best researched guess is that conventional medicine is that which has been developed mostly since WWI, including surgeries, radiation and prescription medication and treatments given by physicians and nurses in hospital settings.

Some health care professionals and researchers state that  CAM/CAT  results are difficult to
ascertain.  They are difficult to study.  So the outcomes of CAM/CAT are questionable.  Websites such as Quackwatch credit the “popularity” of CAM/CAT to the placebo effect. 

Articles claim that there is little research on why or how patients decide to use CAM/CAT or how they access information about CAM/CAT.  Let’s examine this statement.  To begin with, not all who research CAM/CAT are “patients” – they are people who are looking for a general alternative to costly medical procedures or prescription medications that have profound side effect.  Second, it is no mystery how individuals decide to use CAM/CAT or access information!  In general, I would say that those who have done their homework by reading books, magazines or internet research on CAM/CAT use CAM/CAT because they are trying to seek a more gentle solution before catastrophic surgeries, medical procedures or medications.  Let’s face it, simply by listening to a random commercial for medication on television sounds ominous.

Editor's Note: the following italicized paragraph is satire.

Ask your doctor if (insert name of drug)is right for you!  Side effects can include acne, stomach upset, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, muscle pain, dizziness, nausea,  weight gain, weight loss, hair loss, stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, memory problems, hypertension, hypotension, blurred vision, painful erection, erections lasting 4 or more hours,  fast heartbeat, slow heartbeat, irregular heartbeat, drowsiness, sweating, dry mouth or sudden death.

By now, you are probably wondering what would be on the list of CAM/CAT.  CAM/CAT can include acupuncture, aromatherapy, biofeedback, chiropractic, herbs, homeopathy, hypnosis, massage therapy, meditation, naturopathy, osteopathic manipulative therapy, Qi gong, reiki, spiritual healing, Tai Chi, traditional Chinese medicine and yoga.  Generally speaking, each CAM/CAT seeks to see people as whole beings, not a malady or malfunctioning area of the body. CAM/CAT examines the mind-body-spirit connection and offers appropriate support.

Johns Hopkins states that nearly 40% of US adults and 12% of children use CAM/CAT.   The National Institutes of Health created the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to promote research in the area of CAM/CAT and efficacy. In a recent survey, Americans reported spending $33.9 billion (yes, billion with a “b”) out-of-pocket for practices and products.  Clearly, the American public is looking for alternatives to what they are routinely exposed to by western medicine.

The demographics of childbearing families are no different.  They, too, are doing their research on non-pharmacologic pain relief options for labor and birth.  More and more expectant women are examining the side effects of medications offered for labor and birth and systematically rejecting them for other options.  Childbirth educators and doula must become familiar with CAM/CAT used in maternity care and be ready to refer to more knowledgeable resources in their community.  The fact is that our clients will be seeking CAM/CAT practitioners and resources and we need to be aware and support our clients in finding reputable and safe practitioners and resources.

Below are some helpful resources for childbirth educators and doulas wanting to know more about CAM/CAT:

American Holistic Nurses Association   

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