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What is Complementary Medicine?

The term complementary medicine refers to a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered to be part of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine includes natural products, such as dietary supplements, herbs, and probiotics, as well as mind and body practices, such as meditation, chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage.

Another term often used in discussions of therapies that are not part of conventional medicine is integrative medicine. Integrative medicine combines conventional and complementary approaches in a coordinated way.

A third term, alternative medicine, refers to the use of approaches that are not part of conventional medicine as replacements for, rather than complements to, conventional treatment. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine advises against using any product or practice that has not been proven safe and effective as a substitute for conventional medical treatment or as a reason to postpone seeing a doctor about any health problem. In some instances, stopping-or not starting-conventional treatment can have serious consequences. Before making a decision not to use a proven conventional treatment, talk to your health care providers.

It is important to learn what scientific studies have discovered about the therapy you are considering. Making a decision based on the facts is a better idea than using a therapy simply because of something you have seen in an advertisement or on a Web site or because someone has told you that it worked for them.

Understanding a therapy’s potential benefits, risks, and scientific evidence is critical to your health and safety. Scientific research on many complementary therapies is relatively new, so this kind of information may not be available for every therapy. However, many studies are under way, and knowledge and understanding of complementary therapies are increasing all the time.

Talk with your health care provider to find reliable information about complementary therapies. Tell them about the product or practice you are considering and ask any questions you may have about safety, effectiveness, or interactions with medications (prescription or nonprescription) or dietary supplements.

Source: Are You Considering Complementary Medicine? National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

For more information:

Go to the Complementary Medicine health topic.