The abbreviation CAMS comes from the term Complementary and Alternative Medicines and encompasses a vast range of therapeutic modalities and products that are designed to complement, support and assist the intrinsic natural healing powers of the body.
The dominant medical model is commonly described as allopathic, conventional, orthodox or Western medicine. The term CAMS is a combination of two historically popular definitions for a range of natural therapeutic systems that fall outside the realm of conventional medicine.
Complementary has two possible descriptions: the therapy/medicine is used to complement the innate healing power of the organism or is used as an adjunct to, and together with, conventional medicines and practices. Alternative describes systems and modalities that offer a treatment approach clearly alternative to, and often used in place of, allopathic medicine.
While the conventional medical model is designed to treat individual physical symptoms, CAMS is based on the principle of holism. It aims to treat the whole being - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually - recognising that every individual has a unique biological make-up and constitution.
Once considered ‘fringe' medicine and derided as non-scientific, CAMS has experienced a profound growth in the last few decades. CAMS therapies and products are now extremely popular and increasingly regarded as relevant to the healthcare environment. The reasons for this are many - including the trend towards holistic and sustainable lifestyles, growing disillusion with the biomedical model, the cost of allopathic treatment and drugs and the desire to take more personal responsibility for health.
"The spiraling cost of orthodox or conventional medicines, coupled with a growing awareness of the negative side-effects of numerous drugs - or, in the case of antibiotics, the overuse of such drugs - has made the consumer evaluate more carefully the risk-to-benefit ratio of using orthodox medicine over complementary and alternative therapies," states Dr Alan Tomlinson, chairman of the Health Products Association of Southern Africa.
Tomlinson maintains that another factor driving growth in the complementary medicines sector is the growing acceptance of these alternative therapeutic forms by health care professionals.
"With more clinical trials being conducted on complementary medicines each year, the sector is gaining credibility and is being perceived as able to control the efficacy of its products and support the claims being made," he adds.
Under the umbrella of CAMS are complete systems of theory and practice, some of which predate the Western biomedical model - naturopathy, for example - and some of which developed in other cultures - such as Ayurveda in India and Sowa-Rigpa in Tibet. Traditional Chinese Medicine is self explanatory and Unani-Tibb had its roots in ancient Greece and Persia.
Therapeutic modalities and medicines include various forms of phytotherapy, minute-dose medicines (homeopathy, homotoxicology, flower essences, tissue salts); metabolic and nutritional supplements; bodywork (chiropractic, osteopathy, massage, yoga, reflexology); energy therapies (reiki, polarity therapy, healing) as well as mind techniques like biofeedback and neuro-linguistic programming.
Also in the field of CAMS are diagnostic technologies that combine traditional knowledge and modern science: electrodermal screening, for example, which integrates acupuncture principles with computer electronics and information systems.
Find out more in this section about the modalities related to Health Products Association members as well as those recognised by the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa.