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Complementary medicine (or therapies) refers to those methods which can be used alongside, or 'to complement', conventional medicine.
Alternative medicine was originally introduced to refer to whole medical systems that did not fit with conventional medicine; these systems have completely different philosophies, together with different ideas on the causes of disease, methods of diagnosis and approaches to treatment, and were seen as a replacement for conventional healthcare.
Many practitioners now use the term 'complementary and alternative medicine' (CAM) to include both approaches. The term integrated (or integrative) medicine has been introduced more recently to refer to systems in which conventional healthcare and complementary therapies are integrated within a practice or institution.
There is much debate about whether CAM is effective and which therapies work. The NHS now offers a range of selected complementary therapies and many others are available from a variety of practitioners. For some therapies evidence is limited but the NHS is compiling a library of research on studies into the effectiveness of different aspects of CAM see www.library.nhs.uk/cam.
The Institute for Complementary Medicine administers the British Register of Complementary Practitioners and Therapists: www.i-c-m.org.uk as follows:
• Complementary therapies: including Alexander Technique, aromatherapy, Bach and other flower remedies, body work therapies, hypnotherapy, healing and nutritional medicine
• Alternative disciplines: including long established and traditional systems of healthcare such as anthroposophical medicine, ayurvedic medicine, Chinese herbal and Traditional Chinese medicine, naturopathy
• Other alternative disciplines: crystal therapy, dowsing, iridology, kinesiology, and radionics.