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  • Modern Origins of CAM in the West
  • Sonee Singh
  • CAMComplementary Alternative MedicineHealing

Modern Origins of CAM in the West

Modern Origins of CAM in the West

Origins of complementary alternative medicine (CAM) are hard to specify due to lack of clear records. For instance, although the word aromatherapy was first used in the 1930s, a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal was found buried with aromatic plans (Freeman, 2009). But, the first use of aromatherapy is dated to Egypt in 3,000 B.C. Some CAM modalities trace back several thousands of years, such as Ayurveda that was developed up to 5,000 years ago (Gale, 2014). Others, particularly in the West, have a more recent inception. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used herbal remedies in ancient Greece 2,500 years ago. Homeopathy originated in the 1700s, and naturopathy and chiropractic care are developments of the late 1800s (Gale, 2014). Despite their history, what is considered CAM has shifted throughout the years.

The 1800s

Aromatherapy, naturopathy, herbal medicine, and folk medicine were commonplace in Europe until the 1800s when the fields of “bacteriology, organic chemistry, anesthesiology, and radiology” that comprised scientific medicine were taught in medical schools in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany (Gale, 2014, p. 645). Added regulation and licensing requirements for these fields created a separation between the new medical mainstream and earlier practices of homeopathy, naturopathy, and others, turning the latter into alternative treatments (Gale, 2014).

In the early years of United States (US) medical education, the curriculum was comprised of chiropractic, eclectic medicine, homeopathy, and osteopathy (Gale, 2014). However, it changed to include European scientific medicine in the 1890s. Johns Hopkins University was the first to implement a program in its medical school, and others quickly followed. In the early 1900s over 150 medical schools taught scientific medicine and eclectic medicine, but by the 1930s, 66 of these medical schools had closed and scientific medicine was the only method taught (Gale, 2014).

The 1900s

A resurgence of alternative medicine in Canada, Europe, and the US occurred in the 1960s and 1970s with the New Age movement that brought an interest in astrology, Ayurveda, holistic healing, meditation, yoga, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), among others (Gale, 2014). In the US, this interest grew over the years, and in 1992 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) established the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM), which was renamed to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) in 1998 (Gale, 2014). It was again renamed to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) in December of 2014 (NCCIH, 2014).

In the 1990s, the establishment of the OAM led to the creation of integrative medical centers to educate medical professionals and others about CAM, as well as treat patients with an integrative approach (Gale, 2014). The first of these centers were established in the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Arizona College of Medicine, in 1991 and 1994 respectively (Gale, 2014). Other similar medical institutions have opened since, along with schools dedicated to CAM, such as American College of Healthcare Sciences, Bastyr University, National College of Natural Medicine, and the University of Natural Medicine.

Modern Applications

Some long-standing CAM modalities are still in use in the West. Ayurveda and TCM are practiced in many countries around the world, including Canada, Europe, and the US. Ayurvedic medicine and TCM, developed over 2,000 years ago, are taught in dedicated institutions as well as integrative facilities. Homeopathy and naturopathy, both developed in Germany, are still available.

Naturopathic practitioners need to be licensed to practice in most states in the US (Gale, 2014). Licensing varies from state to state, but in general, licenses are required to practice acupuncture, chiropractic, osteopathy, massage therapy, and reflexology. Other modalities of CAM available in the US include aromatherapy, biofield therapies, bodywork, color therapy, crystal healing, dietary supplements, guided imagery, herbal remedies, hypnosis, light therapy, magnet therapy, massage therapy, meditation, polarity therapy, prayer, qi gong, Reiki, relaxation techniques, Shiatsu, therapeutic touch, vitamins, and yoga, among others (Gale, 2014).

Website Links

American College of Healthcare Sciences

Bastyr University

John Hopkins Medicine

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

National College of Natural Medicine

National Institutes of Health

The University of Arizona, College of Medicine

University of Maryland School of Medicine

University of Natural Medicine


Freeman, L. (2009). Mosby’s Complementary & Alternative Medicine, A Research-Based Approach (3rd ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.

Gale (2014). The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, (4th Ed). Farmington Hilla, MI: Gale Cengage Learning.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2014). Complementary, alternative, or integrative health: what’s in a name? National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved on January 20, 2015 from


Pixabay, ChristopherPluta

  • Sonee Singh
  • CAMComplementary Alternative MedicineHealing