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What Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

Complementary and alternative medicine covers a broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies. Generally, it is defined as those treatments and health care practices not taught widely in medical schools, not generally used in hospitals, and not usually reimbursed by medical insurance companies.

Many therapies are termed "holistic," which generally means that the health care practitioner considers the whole person, including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Many therapies are also known as "preventive," which means that the practitioner educates and treats the person to prevent health problems from arising, rather than treating symptoms after problems have occurred.

People use these treatments and therapies in a variety of ways. Therapies are used alone (often referred to as alternative), in combination with other alternative therapies, or in addition to conventional therapies (sometimes referred to as complementary).

Some approaches are consistent with physiological principles of Western medicine, while others constitute healing systems with a different origin. While some therapies are far outside the realm of accepted Western medical theory and practice, others are becoming established in mainstream medicine.

Provided by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine/ National Institutes of Health

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