Terminology | Cam-Regulation


Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is the most commonly used term for treatments provided together with or instead of conventional medicine. There is no common international definition of conventional, traditional, complementary or alternative medicine (327). The English term is most often Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).

CAM treatment in Europe is most often regulated as conventional, alternative or complementary treatments, or not regulated at all (327).

Traditional and complementary medicine (T&CM)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has normally used the term “traditional medicine” (TM). They describe also traditional medicine or non-conventional medicine as complementary medicine (CM). The new WHO term is T&CM when describing TM and CM (328).


To define the term CAM and T&CM we have chosen three different alternatives:

  • The EU CAMbrella project

CAMbrella was a pan-European research network for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) funded by the EU commission. The CAMbrella consortium consisted of 16 scientific partner organisations from 12 European countries. NAFKAM was responsible for the Work Package 2 “Legal status and regulations”.

The EU CAMbrella consortium presented a pragmatic definition of CAM in their final key notes pamphlet (329): “CAM, as utilized by European citizens, represents a variety of different medical systems and therapies based on the knowledge, skills and practices derived from theories, philosophies and experiences used to maintain and improve health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, relieve or treat physical and mental illnesses. CAM therapies are mainly used outside conventional health care, but in many countries some therapies are being adopted or adapted by conventional health care.”

“Traditional medicine (TM) refers to the knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures, used in the maintenance of health and in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness. Traditional medicine covers a wide variety of therapies and practices which vary from country to country and region to region. In some countries, it is referred to as “alternative” or “complementary” medicine (CAM)”.

NCCIH refers “complementary” medicine to “using a non-mainstream approach together with conventional medicine”, while “alternative” refers to “using a non-mainstream approach in place of conventional medicine”(330).

NCCIH promote various definitions of “integrated health care”. One trend is described as following: “Many individuals, health care providers, and health care systems are integrating various practices with origins outside of mainstream medicine into treatment and health promotion”(330). 



327. Wiesener S. Disharmonized regulation of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in Europe – Implications for patients safety [Master thesis]. http://hdl.handle.net/11250/184765 University of Stavanger; 2013.

328. World Health Organization. WHO traditional medicine strategy: 2014-2023. [webpage] Geneva: WHO press; 2013 [cited 2015, 5 March]; Available from: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/92455/1/9789241506090_eng.pdf?ua=1.

329. The Roadmap for European CAM Research; An explanation of the CAMbrella project and its key findings. In: Reiter B, editor. www.cambrella.eu./press: CAMbrella; 2012.

330. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health(NCCIH). Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s In a Name? 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, Maryland 20892: NCCIH 2015 [cited 2015, 5 March]; Available from: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/whatiscam.

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