Health & Wellness

Complementary & Alternative Medicine

Article Summary

We’ve all seen the words “complementary,” “alternative,” and “integrative,” but what do they really mean? According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “CAM” (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine, and alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. Integrative medicine combines conventional and CAM treatments for which there is evidence of safety and effectiveness.

what is cam?

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is a concept that has engendered considerable controversy, because it implies an either/or choice between traditional western medicine and other, less scientifically established treatments.  We can, however, surmount this controversy very quickly by considering these treatments as complementary to traditional medicine; that is, to be used alongside traditional medicine, and not as alternatives.  In fact, for decades there has been a spectrum of treatments in use that complement the pharmaceutical and surgical treatments of western medicine.  These include healthful nutrition and diet (consider diabetes and heart disease), physical and mental exercise (consider obesity and dementia), and many stress-reduction techniques, such as yoga, meditation, counseling, and support groups (consider all our hectic, stress-laden lives).  For balance disorders, in particular, which can have multiple underlying causes and be severely impairing, incorporating complementary treatments to build a healthy lifestyle is essential to maximize the benefits of medical treatments prescribed by our physicians.

It is important to consider that any treatment, traditional or complementary, must have its utility established through rigorously established evidence.  This requirement holds true for everything from surgery, to “nutriceuticals,” to acupuncture, to counseling and psychotherapy.  The problem is in the hawking of untested and unproved remedies, which unfortunately tends to be more in the realm of complementary than in traditional medicine.  Without scientifically developed evidence to support a given treatment, be it a new surgical technique or a new herbal remedy, that treatment does not merit our consideration.  It may indeed have a placebo effect:  Belief in the treatment’s efficacy makes a person feel better, and placebo effects can be powerful.  But that does not mean it will help heal the underlying condition, or that it will have a lasting beneficial effect.  So, we must be careful about what we promote as complementary treatments.  The topics presented below have sufficient research into their efficacy to be included in our discussion.


Stress & Relaxation


Behavioral counseling

Chronic illness can strain your view of yourself, your relationships, your place in society, and your plans for the future. Psychotherapy (also known as 'counseling' or just 'therapy') is a valuable resource when you are struggling with these challenges. This publication provides general information about some of the different ways that therapy can be helpful.


Being well-rested is extremely important. Sleep deprivation can lead to serious health problems. Think of how you feel when you haven't gotten enough sleep. Now think of how you feel when your vestibular symptoms are acting up. Add those together and you're a mess. Establishing healthy sleep habits is one simple thing you can do to build a wellness routine.


There are a lot of people who may think a chiropractor will automatically “snap the neck” of every patient they see, including patients suffering from dizziness. Spinal manipulation, whether performed by a chiropractor, medical doctor, osteopath or physiotherapist may or may not be an appropriate intervention for a patient. There are particular cases where spinal manipulation should be avoided and these “absolute contraindications” and “red flag symptoms” are well known. Chiropractors, like other health professionals, are trained to select the most appropriate treatment for a patient, and may use alternative types of manual therapy when spinal manipulation is not indicated.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are increasingly popular as people look for alternatives or natural remedies for their symptoms. Surprisingly, the pure oils extracted from plants have more than relaxing or invigorating aromatic properties. In pure form, they have been used for centuries as natural therapy for a mental, emotional, and physical health. Oils can be uplifting, invigorating and activating; waking up your mind and energizing your body to think, move, and create. Other oils have the opposite effect: they provide calm, relaxation, restfulness, stress relief, or sleep. Depending on the origin of the extract, the effects of natural, pure, and carefully harvested essential oils are being studied and promoted for a number of health benefits, including anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory effects.

Body work

Body work, such as massage therapy, can have physical and emotional benefits. Regular sessions have been shown to improve mood, and can relieve stress and anxiety. Body work can calm your nervous system and help you relax. Your heartbeat slows, your breathing deepens, and your stress hormone levels are lowered as endorphins are released. Physical benefits include reduced muscle tension, improved circulation, and stimulation of the lymphatic system. Some body work can also decrease inflammatory processes.

How to Find a Practitioner

When selecting  any healthcare provider - traditional, complementary or alternative - it is important to check their credentials. Many professional associations exist with minimum standards of qualification. Check to see if they have a website, and read online reviews. You may also want to give them a call and request a pre-consultation interview.