Complementary and alternative medicine
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a catch-all phrase used in a variety of ways that can encompass a broad variety of concerns. It might be used, on the one hand, for any set of health, medical or therapeutic practices not blessed by generally accepted conventional medicine and thus not covered by medical insurance. It might also refer, used by a different person, to practices believed by medical regulators to be dangerous, deceptive or ineffective. It might even refer to matters on which physicians and biomedical scientists have no opinion, either because no studies have been done or no opinion sought. Public debates include extreme viewpoints in conflicting directions, from, on the one hand, banning anything and everything not blessed by the establishment, and, on the other hand, to providing individual freedom to try a wide variety of therapies as long as they are not actually banned as dangerous or illegal and as long as no patently unprovable claims of efficacy are being made to potential clients.
The underlying problem is easy to identify: who gets to decide? The U. S. Food and Drug Administration is supposed to prevent companies or individuals from marketing drugs or food which are not known to be safe, and also to prevent anyone from making claims of efficacy which are not supported by independent studies using accepted scientific methodology. At the national research, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. For a taxonomy of CAM techniques drawn from both NCCAM and the U.K. Parliament committee on CAM, see integrative medicine.
A common distinction is that while there may be varying levels of efficacy data both for complementary and alternative medicine, complementary disciplines are open to collaboration with mainstream medicine and also other complementary practitioners. Alternative practitioners, however, present themselves as a literal "alternative" to conventional medicine. NCCAM also uses the term "whole system" for alternative paradigms that present themselves as "whole" alternatives to conventional medicine.
But many state agencies also become involved in regulating what is allowed or not allowed. For example, while medical insurance may not recommend or pay for therapeutic massage, chiropractic manipulation, or acupuncture (just for example), many states require practitioners of these arts to be licensed by a state agency intended to guarantee a certain minimum level of competence and training.
The history of struggles and disputes over medical and health approaches is better told in articles related to a specific unofficial health approach. It is easy to consult a regulating authority to find out what therapies and approaches are "official" (and by definition, everything else may be considered CAM). But the issue of whether a specific therapy is "complementary", "harmful", "useful", or whatever, is open to much and passionate dispute. For specific cases, see Complementary_and_alternative_medicine/Related_Articles.