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complementary medicine

Complementary medicine is another expression for "alternative" medicine, though the two are often linked as complementary and alternative medicine and referred to as CAM. (sCAM is sometimes used to refer to supplements and complementary and alternative medicine, since much of CAM promotes taking supplements as essential to good health.) The term 'complementary' seems to have been introduced by the purveyors of quackery in an attempt to produce the bias that untested or discredited treatments should be used along with scientifically tested medical treatments. There really is no such thing as "alternative" medicine; if it's medicine, it's medicine. 'Alternative medicine' is a deceptive term that tries to create the illusion that a discredited or untested treatment is truly an alternative to an established treatment in scientific medicine. By adding 'complementary medicine' to the repertoire of misleading terms, the purveyors of quackery have improved on the illusion that their remedies somehow enhance or improve the effects of science-based medical treatments.

Many people who avoid science-based medical professionals in favor of naturopaths, homeopaths, and the like do so because they believe it is safe. In "Adverse events associated with the use of complementary and alternative medicine in children" Lim et al. report 39 adverse events associated with CAM use over a two-year period, including four reported deaths.

See also holistic, integrative medicine, integrative oncology, NCCAM, and Short and Irreverent E-dition, part 1,  sCAM (so-called Complementary & Alternative Medicine).

further reading

I have written several articles and short pieces about alternative-health related topics. The following is a list of those I think are most relevant to the article above.

Evaluating Personal Experience

Energy Healing: Looking in All the Wrong Places

Evaluating Acupuncture Studies: Laughable vs. Dangerous Delusions

The trouble with acupuncture, homeopathy, etc.

Sticking Needles into Acupuncture Studies

How safe are alternative therapies?

Oprah and Oz spreading superstition at the speed of night 

Ancient Wisdom

Prescribing Placebos

Mesmerized by hypnotherapy

Statistics and Medical Studies

Review of R. Barker Bausell's Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Bunk 7 - Needles and Nerves

Acupuncture shown NOT to ease back and neck pain after surgery

cosmetic acupuncture

books and articles

Barrett, Stephen and William T. Jarvis. eds. The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America, (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1993).

Bausell, R. Barker. (2007). Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine Oxford.

Ernst, Edzard MD PhD, Max H. Pittler MD PHD , Barbara Wider MA. 2006. The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach. 2nd ed. Mosby.

Gardner, Martin. Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science(New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1957), ch. 16.

Park, Robert L. Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud (Oxford U. Press, 2000).

Randi, James. The Faith Healers (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1989).

Raso, Jack. "Alternative" Healthcare: A Comprehensive Guide (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1994).

Raso, Jack. "Mystical Medical Alternativism," Skeptical Inquirer, Sept/Oct 1995.

Sampson, Wallace and Lewis Vaughn, editors. Science Meets Alternative Medicine: What the Evidence Says About Unconventional Treatments  (Prometheus Books, 2000).

Shapiro, Rose.  2008. Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All. Random House.

Singh, Simon and Edzard Ernst. 2008. Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. W. W. Norton.

Stalker, Douglas. 1995. Evidence and alternative medicine. Mt. Sinai Journal of Medicine.

Stenger, Victor J. "Quantum Quackery," Skeptical Inquirer. January/February 1997.


Social and judgmental biases that make inert treatments seem to work by Barry L. Beyerstein (1999)

Why the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Should Be Defunded by Wallace I. Sampson, M.D.

Analysis of the Reports of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy (WHCCAMP) from the National Council Against Health Fraud

The WHCCAMP "Minority Report"

NCAHF Position Statement on White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine

QuackWatch by Dr. Stephen Barrett

Fraud & Quackery: Internet Resources: Alternative Medicine

Alternatives to Medicine Topical Index Skeptic's Dictionary

The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices

The Medical Messiahs: A Social History of Health Quackery in Twentieth-Century America Chapter 18: Anti-Quackery, Inc. James Harvey Young, PhD


Announcing The Nightingale Collaboration

"The Nightingale Collaboration will work to improve the protection of the public by ensuring claims made about complementary and alternative therapies are not misleading. We will do this by:

• challenging misleading claims made by practitioners on their websites, in adverts and in their promotional and sales materials and subjecting these to scrutiny by the appropriate regulatory bodies;

• striving to ensure that organisations representing complementary and alternative practitioners have robust codes of conduct for their members that protect the public and that these are rigorously enforced."

More than 37% of hospitals now offer complementary and alternative treatments such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and massage therapyup from 26.5% in 2005, according to a report from the American Hospital Association. According to the survey, 84 percent of hospitals indicated patient demand as the primary rationale in offering CAM services and 67 percent of survey respondents stated clinical effectiveness as their top reason.


CAM appears to be more popular than it really is by including such things as yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises as "alternative" medicine. These are no more "alternative" than back-stretching exercises are "alternative" medicine. Here's an example: http://www.newswise.com/articles/health-care-providers-are-prescribing-nontraditional-medicine

Is "CAM" Fraud? by Jann Bellamy at Science-Based Medicine

"As criticism of CAM for scientific implausibility grows and study after study fails to support claims of effectiveness, we may reach a point where it becomes impossible for the CAM practitioner to avoid knowing that CAM is based on misrepresentations, making it much harder to defeat claims of fraudulent misrepresentation."

Your pain means nothing to me. “What’s the harm?” is the answer the believer gives to going to acupuncture, certain chiropractors, or other sCAM practitioners. There are a number of harmful things. The first harm is that because the modality is based on the placebo effect, if the treatment doesn’t work the practitioner blames the victim for its failure. Because there aren’t replicable mechanisms there isn’t any reason they will work. For most people just being talked to nicely and made comfortable is a way to mitigate chronic pain. It’s the failure of a lot of doctors that they do not have time or the inclination to listen to the needs of their patients. That’s bad bedside manner and diagnosis, not a failure of medicine. The sCAM practitioner comes from a background that teaches listening.

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