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 FAQs Natural Therapies: Complementary Medicine

Complementary & Natural Therapies

Complementary & Natural Therapies

“I’ve read that yoga and acupuncture are considered ‘Complementary Medicine’. What is that? How does it relate to conventional medicine?

The word “complementary” means “in addition to.” “Complementary” medicine generally refers to using a non-mainstream approach together with conventional medicine, that is, treatment and medicine that you use in addition to your doctor’s standard care.

[By contrast the term “Alternative” medicine refers to using a non-mainstream approach in place of conventional medicine.]

You’ve probably heard of ‘complementary’ treatments and perhaps even used one or more. Common examples are:

♠  Acupuncture
♠  Yoga
♠  Massage therapy
♠  Herbal remedies
♠  Naturopathic medicine

Should You Use Complementary Medicine?

Before you decide to use this type of treatment, think about these questions:

•  Why are you considering this treatment? People often use complementary medicine to treat long-term health problems or to stay healthy. But if you are looking for a “cure-all,” you may be disappointed. Before you begin to use it, make sure that you learn how well it is likely to work.

•  What are you comfortable with? Part of the philosophy of some forms of complementary medicine is to listen to and touch people in a healing way. Some people find great comfort in this. Others may be bothered by it.

What are the Risks?

The greatest risk is that you may use these treatments instead of going to your regular doctor. Complementary medicine should be in addition to treatment from your doctor. Otherwise you may miss important treatment that could save your life.

Always talk to your doctor before you use any new medicines. Some herbs or supplements, for example, an be dangerous when they are combined with a prescription medicine you are taking.

What are the Benefits?

One benefit is that many people who practice complementary medicine take a “whole person,” or holistic, approach to treatment. They may take an hour or more to ask you questions about your lifestyle, habits, and background. This makes many people feel better about the treatment and the person giving the treatment itself. Some people feel more of a sense of control because they are more involved in their own health.

Beware of a practitioner who is critical of your traditional care or suggests ending it. Most ‘complementary’ practitioners also value conventional medicine.

If Considering a Complementary Healthcare Practitioner

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the U.S. Institutes of Health, offers this advice if you are considering going to a complementary health practitioner:

 •  Select a complementary practitioner with the same care you would use in choosing a conventional medical provider.
•  Understand your state and local government’s requirements for licensing and certification of practitioners, and the limitations of those requirements.
•  Do not use an unproven product or practice to replace proven conventional care or as a reason to postpone seeing a health care provider about a medical problem.
•  Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

Some insurance companies cover the costs of complementary treatments, while others may not. Check to see what your plan covers, and refer the NCCAM fact sheet Paying for Complementary Health Approaches.

For tips about talking with your health care providers about complementary health approaches, see NCCAM’s Time to Talk campaign.

Last updated: Saturday, February 11, 2017 

Return to FAQ Natural Therapies

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