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Defining Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can be used for weight loss and glycemic control. Alternative medicine comprises several systematic medical practices based on models of health and disease that differ from the medical physiology that underpins Western allopathic medicine (Table 30-1). One of the oldest practices within this rubric is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a system that defines health as a harmonious balance of the essential life force known as Qi (pronounced “Chee”). TCM also includes acupuncture and is used to promote wellness and to treat disease by regulating the flow of Qi along meridians that course through the body.

TABLE 30-1Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Headings in MEDLINE

Mind-body medical systems view health as a balance of conscious and unconscious influences of mind on bodily functions. Mind-body medicine include manipulative and body-based systems like chiropractic, osteopathy, and massage, which are said to rebalance or realign the body through manipulation. Meditation, hypnosis, music, and prayer fall under this aegis. Mind-body medicine also includes energy-modulating modalities, such as therapeutic touch, Qi Gong, and magnets, which supposedly reorder bioelectric fields in or around the body to promote wellness and healing.

The most commonly used CAM practices are biologic-based therapies, such as botanical medicine, dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals, and orthomolecular medicine. Use of botanicals has been increasing steadily over the past 40 years. The reasons are manifold. Botanicals, despite a lack of evidence, are perceived as safer than conventional pharmaceuticals. They are promoted and perceived as supporting wellness, rather than treating disease. Any person can walk into any health food store, purchase whatever products they like without consulting a health care provider, thereby exercising a high degree of control and autonomy over their health care. CAM treatments harmonize with the philosophical and ethical values of many people. They offer natural alternatives that are unprocessed and unrefined. Many consumers are impressed by the seemingly vast traditional and historical record supporting the use of CAM products, despite the fact that the record is limited to observation, anecdote, and testimonials.

Nonetheless, the rate of use of CAM continues to escalate. In the data collected during the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in 1971–1974, 22% of adults under 50 and 27% of those over 27 used dietary supplements. By NHANES 2003–2006, rates reached 45% and 67%, respectively.

Reasons for Using Botanicals and Supplements

Weight loss is reportedly one of the top 20 reasons people take ...

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