Complementary alternative medicine (CAM) refers to non-conventional approaches to healthcare that are used alongside or as a complement to traditional medical treatments (Lavretsky, 2017). It encompasses a wide range of practices, including herbal medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy, massage therapy, and mind-body interventions such as meditation and yoga (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021).
The use of CAM has been growing in popularity in the United States in recent years. According to a national survey conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2012, approximately 38% of adults and 12% of children in the U.S. had used some form of CAM in the past 12 months (NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2019). This suggests that a significant proportion of the population is turning to CAM as an alternative or supplement to conventional medical treatments.
The typical person who uses CAM can vary widely, as CAM is not limited to any specific demographic group. However, certain characteristics have been associated with CAM use. One study found that CAM users tend to be older, female, more educated, have higher income levels, and report poorer health status (Barnes, Bloom, & Nahin, 2008). This suggests that individuals who are actively seeking out alternative forms of healthcare may be doing so because they are dissatisfied with or have not found relief from conventional medical treatments.
Another characteristic of individuals who use CAM is a holistic or integrative approach to health. CAM users often prioritize the integration of mind, body, and spirit in the pursuit of optimal health and well-being (Kemper, 2016). They may be more likely to engage in self-care practices such as exercise, meditation, and eating a healthy diet. CAM users also tend to value a patient-centered approach, with a focus on the individual’s preferences and active participation in their own healthcare decisions.
Cultural factors also play a significant role in the use of CAM. Certain cultural and ethnic groups have long-standing traditions of using natural remedies and alternative therapies in their healthcare practices. For example, traditional Chinese medicine, which includes practices such as acupuncture and herbal medicine, has been widely adopted by Chinese immigrants in the U.S. (Kan, 2017). Similarly, Ayurveda, a traditional system of medicine from India, has gained popularity among Indian-Americans (Suchitra, 2015).
In conclusion, CAM encompasses a wide range of non-conventional healthcare practices that are used alongside or as a complement to traditional medical treatments. The typical person who uses CAM may vary, but they often share characteristics such as older age, female gender, higher education and income levels, and poorer health status. They tend to value a holistic and integrative approach to health, and often prioritize patient-centered care and active participation in their healthcare decisions. Cultural factors also play a significant role in the use of CAM, as certain cultural and ethnic groups have long-standing traditions of incorporating alternative therapies into their healthcare practices.
Barnes, P. M., Bloom, B., & Nahin, R. L. (2008). Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults and children: United States, 2007. National Health Statistics Reports, (12), 1-23.
Kan, A. (2017). Acculturation, collective self-esteem, and psychological well-being in Chinese immigrants: A mediation model of integrative self-knowledge and bicultural efficacy. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64(3), 298-310.
Kemper, K. J. (2016). Complementary and alternative medicine practices and beliefs in children and adolescents. Journal of Pediatrics, 172, 41-48.
Lavretsky, H. (2017). Complementary and alternative medicine use for treatment and prevention of late-life mood and cognitive disorders. The Aging Mind: An Integrative Approach to Cognitive Health, 287-302.
Suchitra, R. (2015). Exploring ethnicity: Ayurvedic health-seeking behaviors among Indian-Americans in the United States. Health Communication, 30(6), 625-635.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021). Complementary, alternative, or integrative health: What’s in a name? Retrieved from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/complementary-alternative-or-integrative-health-whats-in-a-name
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (2019). The use of complementary and alternative medicine in the United States. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/NHIS/2012/more-about-adults