Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Complementary and alternative medicine overview

When you are unwell, you see your GP for advice and you may leave the surgery with a prescription. Your doctor - and the medication they prescribe - is considered part of conventional medicine.

If you also visit a chiropractor or acupuncturist for treatment, you'd be in the field of complementary and alternative medicine, sometimes referred to as CAM.

There are a number of alternative and complementary therapies available in the UK. Some of these treatments have been claimed to help some people alleviate the symptoms of certain diseases.

However, other alternative therapies don't have enough medical evidence to determine if they are effective.

Complementary and alternative therapies should not be used to replace the treatment recommended by your doctor.

Many complementary and alternative therapists are registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) which was set up by the government to give a degree of regulation to the sector.

Before you try CAM, read this overview.


What it is: Traditional Chinese acupuncture is based on the theory that vital energy called Qi circulates around the body along channels called meridians. Blockages in the flow of Qi are thought to cause ill health. The aim of acupuncture is to restore a balance of energy and good health to the body.

The evidence: Many of acupuncture's benefits still haven't been confirmed. That's because more studies on acupuncture need to be performed. However, evidence suggests that acupuncture holds promise for relieving vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy. Also, hospitals, hospices and clinics use acupuncture to help relieve pain.


What it is: Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils to help deal with everyday stresses and emotional well-being. The concentrated oils are extracted from plants and are usually inhaled or used for massage.

It is thought that molecules from the oils can permeate through the skin, enter the blood, and affect the nervous system.

The evidence: There is no firm scientific evidence that aromatherapy works.

Various reviews of the effect of aromatherapy on conditions including pain management in labour, dementia and psychiatric disorders, have usually concluded that more studies or better designed research is needed.

Chiropractic medicine

What it is: Chiropractors specialise in adjustments - manipulating the spine to put the body into better alignment. People typically see a chiropractor when they have pain in their lower back, shoulders and neck. Additionally, many chiropractors claim that adjustments can also improve overall health and treat a wide range of conditions including asthma, infant colic, irritable bowel syndrome, and many more conditions.

The evidence: Chiropractic medicine does seem to provide some relief for lower back pain, although it may not be any better than other back pain treatments, such as painkillers, exercise, and physiotherapy. However, there is no good evidence that spinal manipulation is an effective treatment for any other health condition.

WebMD Medical Reference

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

How to help headache pain
rash on skin
Top eczema triggers to avoid
Causes of fatigue & how to fight it
Tips to support digestive health
woman looking at pregnancy test
Is your body ready for pregnancy?
woman sleeping
Sleep better tonight
Treating your child's cold or fever
fifth disease
Illnesses every parent should know
spoonfull of sugar
Surprising things that harm your liver
woman holding stomach
Understand this common condition
What your nails say about your health