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Complementary and Integrative Health

About Complementary/Alternative/Integrative Health

Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative Medicine/Health (CAIM) encompasses a wide spectrum of therapies, practices, and philosophies that range from simple activities such as exercise, prayer, and meditation, to highly complex healthcare systems.

  • Alternative Medicine/Therapies refers to health care approaches that are used instead of conventional medicine and/or therapies.
  • Complementary Medicine refers to therapies and practices that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine, but which are often used in conjunction with conventional therapies. There is much overlap between what is considered "complementary" and conventional, and the boundaries are constantly shifting as these therapies become more widely accepted and utilized. 
  • Conventional, or "Western", Medicine refers to modern medicine as generally practiced in industrialized countries. Conventional medicine emphasizes the use of sophisticated laboratory and/or radiological procedures for diagnosis, and surgery and/or pharmacotherapy for treatment. Conventional practices and therapies are often developed through application of the scientific method, and practitioners rely on published evidence for proof of their efficacy and safety.
  • Integrative Medicine focuses on the whole person, body, mind, and spirit. With its concentration on health and healing, it makes use of all available therapies, both conventional and complementary.


Why is it more challenging to find literature on complementary therapies than for conventional therapies?

  • Many variations in terminology and spelling exist for herbal medicines and complementary therapies.
  • Bibliographic databases (such as MEDLINE and CINAHL) may have minimal indexing of terms used in complementary therapies, forcing a reliance upon less-precise keyword searching.
  • Information on complementary therapies may not be available electronically, instead being found only in older textbooks and monographs that are only available in hard copy.
  • Information on complementary therapies may be written in non-English languages, or not written at all, instead passed down solely through oral tradition.
  • There may be a limited number of rigorous research studies, such as randomized controlled trials and large cohort studies, conducted on complementary medicine therapies and modalities.
  • It may be more difficult for researchers to secure funding for their projects, prompting them to opt for less expensive research methods, or to conduct studies with fewer subjects or on shorter time frames.