An introduction to complementary medicine
Wednesday 30th July
Ever wondered about alternative therapies? Browse our Q&A to find out more.
Q: What is complementary medicine?
A: In essence a complementary or alternative therapy is one which falls outside the normal range of conventional medicine. It is often referred to by the umbrella term CAM (complementary and alternative medicine).
Q: Is there a difference between “alternative” and “complementary”?
A: Some people, including health practitioners, use the terms interchangeably. The easiest way to distinguish between the two is to ask the question: “Is this treatment an alternative to standard treatment”? If the answer is “yes”, then it's an alternative therapy. If the treatment is used alongside conventional therapy, then it is termed complementary. Confusion can arise because some therapies (such as aromatherapy) fall into both camps and can be used as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, other treatments.
Q: How popular are these treatments?
A: Figures vary hugely from country to country, but in the UK about 50 per cent of us will use CAM therapies at some stage during our lives. Among Australians, the figure is closer to 85 per cent. We Brits currently spend around £1.6bn per year on CAM medicines and therapies, and they're steadily growing in popularity.
Q: Is CAM for me?
A: Alternative therapies can be a great divider, with some people swearing by them and others writing them off as a waste of time and money. Few have hard and fast scientific evidence to support them, with the exception perhaps of acupuncture, which is approved by NICE for the treatment of lower back pain.
As long as you aren't risking your health by neglecting to consult a doctor, or by refusing conventional medicine, whether you use CAM or not is often a matter of personal preference. If in doubt, or if you have an ongoing condition or take regular medication, ask your GP before trying an alternative or complementary therapy. This is to ensure that it won't interact with your medicines or exacerbate an existing health problem.
You may also want to refer to NHS Choices for more information about CAM and how CAM is regulated.
Read more about complementary and alternative medicine along with topics on keeping healthy in our a healthier you section. You can also find out about the CAM therapies, including acupuncture, that are covered by our cash plans for those aged 65 and under and the over 65s.