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Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Information for students researching CAM topics

What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?


Many Americans use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in pursuit of health and well-being. The 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which included a comprehensive survey of CAM use by Americans, showed that approximately 33 percent of adults use CAM.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) defines CAM as health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.

  • Conventional medicine (also called Western medicine) is medicine as practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) and D.O. (doctor of osteopathic medicine) degrees.
  • "Complementary medicine" refers to use of CAM together with conventional medicine, e.g. acupuncture to lessen pain.
  • "Alternative medicine" refers to use of CAM in place of conventional medicine.
  • "Integrative medicine" combines treatments from conventional medicine and CAM for which there is some high-quality evidence of safety and effectiveness. For example, recent clinical studies show yoga can improve insomnia, decrease fatigue, and reduce stress in patients undergoing traditional cancer treatment.

"USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77)_140720-N-C" (CC BY 2.0) by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health