Complementary and Alternative Medicine 

What is Complementary & Alternative Medicine?
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) refers to therapies that extend outside of the normal practices of conventional medicine used by either a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO).  Complementary medicine is used in conjunction with conventional medicine whereas alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine.  Integrative medicine combines the use of CAM practices that have shown significant effectiveness and safety with traditional medicine.

While some scientific evidence exists regarding some CAM therapies, for most there are key questions that are yet to be answered through well-designed scientific studies.  These are questions such as whether the therapies are safe and whether they work for the diseases or medical conditions for which they are used. If you are considering CAM, it is critical to discuss with your medical doctor to determine safety and for assistance using appropriately in combination with other therapies.

When considering CAM, what questions should patients ask their CAM health care providers?

  • What benefits can I expect from this therapy?
  • What are the risks associated with this therapy?
  • How will this therapy interact with my conventional treatment(s)?
  • What are the potential side effects?
  • Is this therapy part of a clinical trial?  If so, who is sponsoring the trial?
  • Will the therapy be covered by health insurance?

It is important to tell all your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use or are considering.  Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health.  This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.  You can find additional information about CAM, including reports of research on specific therapies, from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the NIH (National Institutes of Health) on their website, or from the Mayo Clinic website,  

Cost Considerations
Costs vary widely: it is important to check with the institution as well as with your insurance company to verify the costs that may be incurred.

What types of Complementary & Alternative Therapies are there? This is a partial list:

  • Acupuncture- An originally Chinese practice of inserting fine needles through the skin at specific points with the intent to cure disease or relieve pain.
  • Ayurvedic- A form of alternative medicine that seeks to treat and integrate body, mind, and spirit using a comprehensive holistic approach by emphasizing diet, herbal remedies, exercise, meditation, breathing, and physical therapy.  Ayurvedic medicine is the traditional system of medicine of India that preceded and evolved independently of Western medicine.
  • Chiropractic- A system of therapy which holds that disease results from a lack of normal nerve function and which employs manipulation and specific adjustment of body structures, including the spinal column.
  • Homeopathic Medicine- A system of medical practice that treats a disease by the administration of minute doses of a remedy that would in healthy persons produce symptoms similar to those of the disease.
  • Massage- Manipulation of tissues (by rubbing, stroking, kneading, or tapping) with the hand or an instrument for therapeutic purposes.
  • Nutritional Counseling/Herbal & Botanical- Herbal medicine products are dietary supplements that people take with the intent of improving their health. Many herbs have been used for a long time for claimed health benefits. They are sold as tablets, capsules, powders, teas, extracts and fresh or dried plants. However, some can cause health problems, some are not effective and some may interact with other drugs you may be taking.
  • Oriental/Chinese Medicine- A system of medicine that includes theories, diagnosis and treatments that include herbal medicine, acupuncture and massage.  These theories derive from many sources including the theory of Yin-Yang, the Five Phases of natural phenomena, the human body Channel system, Zang Fu organ theory and others.  Often Qigong (pronounced chee-gong), a practice that integrates meditation, physical movement and mind-body integration, is also strongly affiliated with traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Yoga- Yoga is a mind-body exercise which combines controlled breathing with postures that focus on strength and flexibility with the goals of increased relaxation and stabilized mood.


Finding Additional Information from Accredited Resources:

Health on the Net (HON) Foundation

Worldwide online Reliable Advice to Patients and Individuals.  Can search medical literature based on keywords.

Food and Drug Administration 

Food and Drug Administration PDR Health
PDRhealthTM is the consumer Web portal of the Physicians’ Desk Reference (PDR®), which has provided trusted and authoritative drug and clinical information to physicians for over 60 years. The PDRhealth site offers consumer-friendly explanations of disease states and conditions as well as the safe and effective use of prescription and non-prescription drugs as well as herbal medicines. 

This website checks the validity of any complementary or alternative treatment.


Fee-based sites:

Natural Standard
Fee based. Founded by clinicians and researchers to provide high quality, evidence-based information about complementary and alternative therapies, this international multidisciplinary collaboration now includes contributors from more than 100 eminent academic institutions.

Natural Medicine Database
Fee based. Includes the option to search by product name, disease, condition or drug name.  Provides an effectiveness level for natural products and checks for potential interactions between any natural product and any drug.
Fee based. Mission: to identify the best quality health and nutrition products through independent testing. 

The information and services provided by the ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter are for informational purposes only.  The information and services are not intended to be substitutes for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  If you are ill, or suspect that you are ill, see a doctor.  The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter does not recommend nor endorse any specific physicians, products or treatments even though they may be mentioned on this site. 

Go to Navigating Life with ALS page


The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter
321 Norristown Road - Suite 260, Ambler, PA 19002

The ALS Association is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.