What Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Holistic Science?

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is the term applied to health care that utilizes alternative, natural methods of healing and maintaining wellness. When a holistic method of treatment is used exclusively in place of Western medicine’s emphasis on invasive or drug therapies, the term “Alternative Medicine” is used, literally meaning the use of natural healing methods as alternatives to conventional Western medicine. When natural ways of healing and understanding illness are used in conjunction with conventional Western medicine, the term “Complementary Medicine” is used, meaning that natural healing methods and the techniques of Western medicine complement each other in a “best of both worlds” approach.

The acronym “CAM” refers to both exclusive and complementary uses of natural medicine, and encompasses the variety of natural and safe methods of healing available to health care practitioners from all areas of life. It excludes only those practitioners who solely use Western medicine, a number that is continually declining as alternative modes of healing have even been accepted by such established medical institutions as the Mayo Clinic and the National Institute of Health.

Traditional Medicine
Alternative Medicine also includes the vast body of indigenous and traditional cultural medical knowledge that has been practiced far longer than any form of Western medicine. Traditional medicine includes the ethno-medicine of indigenous tribes, regional teachings that involve the curative properties of plants and herbs, as well as other forms of local knowledge. The World Health Organization has recognized the vital importance of traditional healing methods and believes that traditional medicine needs to be understood as a vital part of primary health care.

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, stressed the need for Complementary Medicine and cooperation between practitioners of traditional and Western medicine at the W.H.O. Congress on Traditional Medicine in China in 2008, saying:

“The two systems of traditional and Western medicine need not clash. Within the context of primary health care, they can blend together in a beneficial harmony, using the best features of each system.”

The World Health Organization’s interest dates back to the 1970s, when the W.H.O. set up a Working Group on Traditional Medicine. Then Director General, Dr Halfdan Mahler, wrote at the time that:

“For far too long, traditional systems of medicine and “modern” medicine have gone their separate ways in mutual antipathy. Yet are their goals not identical — to improve the health of mankind and thereby the quality of life? Only the blinkered mind would assume that each has nothing to learn from the other.”


Holistic Science and Holistic Medicine
Holistic Science is the foundation for all alternative medicine. It views the world as a unified, interconnected system, and understands that health care can only be effective when the body is viewed as a single organism that functions as a whole. Alternative medicine does not see the body as separate from the mind, and the spiritual dimension of life is considered an integral part of a person’s overall health and well being.

The wide body of research on the debilitating effects of mental stress on physical health clearly proves this powerful relationship between mind and body. This profound interconnection is one that alternative and traditional healers have long understood. At the NAUHSRC, we use the term “holistic medicine” to describe the various branches of natural and traditional healing in the world of CAM. These many forms of natural health care share common roots in the holistic vision of the individual, and each forms a strand in the living, interconnected web of healing.