In the past few decades, we’ve seen a surge of interest in complementary and alternative forms of medicine (CAM) in the United States. These days people are looking for new ways to achieve their best health, and sometimes this means turning to methods that aren’t conventional.
Keep reading to learn about the increase of CAM, and why more and more people are seeking it out.
What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is defined as any range of medical therapies that are not regarded as orthodox by the medical profession, such as herbalism and acupuncture. The basic philosophy of CAM includes holistic care, which focuses on treating a human being as a whole person.
Some of the most common different types of CAM’s include:
- Chiropractic care
- Massage therapy
- Naturopathic medicine
- Dietary supplements & vitamins
The increase in CAM is not a new trend. In fact, the use of alternative medicine dates back to ancient times with natural or spiritual healing methods. These therapies may offer a number of benefits, such as reducing stress, improving well-being, and providing additional support during illness or recovery. In 1990, a third of all Americans had used some form of CAM. Now, close to half of all Americans report having tried alternative medicine.
There is no one answer as to why people are turning to alternative medicine, but there are some common threads:
Patients feel unheard:
Think of your typical visit to the doctor. You enter the waiting room, where you'll wait your turn to be called back. Then, you probably go with the nurse to take your vitals. After more waiting, the doctor pops in and spends about 10-15 minutes with you.
While these traditional check-ups can be helpful, it can also lead to distrust among patients. Some people are more comfortable with a CAM provider and report that it is more relationship-focused, compared to conventional settings.
People want a more integrative approach:
Many people are looking for an approach that's tailored to their individual needs. They want therapies that view the patient as a whole person and not just a disease or set of symptoms. In addition, while medications to treat both physical and mental health can assist in addressing their conditions, many also experience negative side effects.
Rising healthcare costs:
The cost of healthcare continues to increase and outpace inflation. Health spending in the U.S. is projected to increase by an average 5.1% over 2021-2030, reaching nearly $6.8 trillion by 2030. With no end in sight to projected cost increases and employees who can't afford them, many are searching for an affordable solution for healthcare.
There may also be a number of other factors at play, including:
- An aging population
- Growing consumer interest in natural health solutions
- The growing prevalence of neurological disorders and cancer
- Decrease in the cost of alternative therapies
- A rise in consumer health consciousness
Restorative and Preventative Supplementation is Imperative
The following abstract, from the journal Nutrients, defines the importance of nutrients in supporting the structure and function of the immune system against viruses and bacteria as indicated by the title: “Optimal Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System is an Important Factor to Protect against Viral Infections.”
The role nutrition plays in supporting the immune system is well-established. A wealth of mechanistic and clinical data show that vitamins, including vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and folate; trace elements, including zinc, iron, selenium, magnesium, and copper; and the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosatetraenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, play important and complementary roles in supporting the immune system. Inadequate intake and status of these nutrients are widespread, leading to a decrease in resistance to infections and consequently an increase in disease burden. Against this background the following conclusions are made:
- supplementation with the above micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acids are a safe, effective, and low-cost strategy to help support optimal immune function;
- supplementation above the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), but within recommended upper safety limits, for specific nutrients such as vitamins C and D is warranted; and
- public health officials are to be encouraged to include nutritional strategies in their recommendations to improve public health.
As more people turn to alternative medicine for help with physical and mental health concerns, researchers are beginning to take a closer look at these practices. And while there is much still to learn, the evidence so far suggests that many alternative therapies can be safe and effective ways to improve your health and well-being in spite of regulatory obstacles and marketplace confusion that challenge the Complimentary and Alternative Medicine industry.