What is complementary medicine?
The word "complementary" means "in addition to." Complementary medicine is treatment and medicine that you use in addition to your doctor's standard care.
What is considered standard treatment in one culture may not be standard in another. For example:
- Acupuncture is standard in China but not in Canada.
- Hypnosis is a standard part of psychiatry, but it may not be standard if used to treat cancer.
Other examples of complementary medicine include:
- Massage therapy.
- Herbal remedies.
- Naturopathic medicine.
Is research being done on it?
Many complementary treatments and medicines have not yet been studied to see how safe they are or how well they work. Some treatments, such as prayer or music therapy, are hard to study.
The Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD), which is part of the Health Products and Food Branch of Health Canada, helps to ensure that natural health products sold in Canada are safe, effective, and of high quality. The NHPD supports some research on complementary medicine therapies. When you are choosing a natural health product, look for one with a Drug Identification Number (DIN) or Natural Product Number (NPN) on the label.
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.
Some complementary treatments are covered by some provincial health plans and private insurance plans. Check to see what treatments your plan covers.
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.
Sometimes complementary medicines can be dangerous when they are combined with another medicine you are taking. Always talk to your doctor before you use any new medicines. Diet supplements, for example, are complementary. And they can vary widely in how strong they are and in how they react to other medicines.
Also, complementary medicine isn't controlled as much as standard medicine. This means you could become a victim of fraud. Sellers or people who practice complementary medicine are more likely to be frauds if they:
- Require large up-front payments.
- Promise quick results or miracle cures.
- Warn you not to trust your doctor.
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, the person giving the treatment itself, and the condition.
In some cases, this type of medicine works as well as standard medicine. For example, research shows that St. John's wort works as well for depression as a common antidepressant and causes fewer side effects. Also, these treatments often cost less and have fewer side effects than standard treatment.
Some people feel more in control when they are more involved in their own health. And since most complementary medicine looks at the connection between mind and body, many people who use it feel better. They like working toward overall wellness instead of just relief from one problem.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about complementary medicine:
Alternative medical systems:
Biologically based therapies:
Manipulative and body-based methods:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
|Decision Points focus on key medical care decisions that are important to many health problems.|
|Complementary Medicine: Should I Use Complementary Medicine?|
Alternative Medical Systems
An alternative medical system is a set of practices based on a philosophy different from Western biomedicine. Most of these systems have evolved apart from and earlier than the conventional medical system used in Canada.
These techniques develop the mind's ability to help the body to heal or keep itself well. Some of these techniques, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, were in the past considered complementary medicine and are now a part of conventional medicine in Canada.
- Autogenic training
- Guided imagery
- Humour therapy
- Light therapy
- Music therapy
- Tai chi and qi gong
Biologically Based Therapies
These therapies use substances found in nature to treat illness or promote wellness. They include foods, vitamins, and both herbal and non-herbal natural health products.
- Beta-sitosterol plant extract
- Butterbur extract
- Chelation therapy
- Coenzyme Q10
- Ginkgo biloba
- Glucosamine and chondroitin
- Herbal and natural supplements
- Milk thistle
- Rye grass pollen extract
- Saw palmetto
- St. John's wort
- Tea tree oil
Manipulative and Body-Based Methods
These therapies involve the movement or realignment of parts of the body.
There are two types of energy therapies, both of which involve the use of energy fields. Biofield therapies are used to affect energy fields in and around the human body. Bioelectromagnetic-based therapies use electromagnetic fields to affect the body, such as those from magnets or electrical current.
- Healing touch
- Magnetic field therapy
- Therapeutic touch
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
Other Places To Get Help
|Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND)|
|1255 Sheppard Avenue East|
|Toronto, ON M2K 1E2|
The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND) is a not-for-profit professional association representing the interests of licensed naturopathic doctors and promoting naturopathic medicine throughout Canada. Its membership consists of naturopathic doctors, naturopathic medical students, suppliers of natural remedies for professional use, and the provincial naturopathic associations.
|Health Canada: Natural Health Products|
|2936 Baseline Road|
|Qualicum Tower A, Postal Locator: 3302A|
|Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9|
|TDD:||1-800-267-1245 (Health Canada)|
In Canada, natural health products are subject to the federal Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. The Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) within Health Canada is responsible for ensuring that all Canadians have ready access to natural health products that are safe, effective, and of high quality, while respecting freedom of choice and philosophical and cultural diversity.
Other Works Consulted
- Micozzi MS (2011). Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 4th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.
- Pizzorno JE, Murray MT (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine|
|Last Revised||August 27, 2013|
Public Health Alerts
Public health alerts include information about outbreaks, advisories and product recalls. Click on the links below to read the most recent alerts, or visit our Public Health Alerts web page.
FIND Services and Resources
If you are looking for health services in your community, you can use our directory to FIND hospitals, clinics, and other resources.
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Is it an emergency?
If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be life-threatening. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately. If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.