CAM is Chewing Gum.

CAM is Chewing Gum.

CAM stands for “Complementary and Alternative Medicine,” and it is none of the above. CAM is to Health what chewing gum is to Diet.

Complementary, as CAM proponents would have us believe, means: “Completing; forming a complement,” or “Combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize each other’s qualities.” What they would like us to believe is that these various nonscientific, evidence-free practices somehow complement actual medicine, when in truth, not only is medicine fine without them, but that in order for them to work, real medicine is necessary – making medicine the complement to CAM, not the other way around.

Chewing gum is not a complement to Diet in the same way. It adds nothing to a healthy, well-balanced diet in any nutritional sense, and provides no benefits whatsoever unless you are already meeting proper nutritional needs.

As a complement, chewing gum and CAM have a similar effect. If you’re attempting to lose weight or stave off hunger, a stick of gum creates an illusion of eating – the flavor and chewing motion stimulate the salivary glands, swallowing saliva puts some liquid in the stomach and creates a small amount of digestive activity, and mentally it provides a distraction from hunger. Sometimes hunger is emotional or triggered by habit or an outside stimulus, so chewing gum gives us something to do while we wait for the need to pass. Without the gum, this kind of hunger would pass on its own, but chewing the gum makes the waiting easier. We may think or fool ourselves into thinking that it’s actually responsible for the abatement of the hunger, but it’s really not.

CAM does the same thing. That is, it does nothing but give us the feeling that we’ve done something to help the problem and distracts us while we wait for it to resolve on its own.

As an alternative, they both fail completely, because chewing gum is no more a food than CAM is a medical treatment. As I just said, they let us put off eating or seeking medical help while hunger or illness resolve on their own, but not all hunger or illnesses do that. If we’re truly hungry and try to placate that hunger with chewing gum for long enough, we become more vulnerable to binge eating. We’ll eat whatever we come upon, whether it’s good for us or not, and eat more of it than we would have if we’d attended to our hunger properly from the start.

When CAM is used to treat an illness that doesn’t get better with time, we end up delaying the start of evidence-based, efficacious treatment, which means that we are much sicker and harder to cure than we would have been if we’d addressed the illness properly from the start.

As medicine, CAM is to it as gum is to food. Many forms of CAM rely on untestable elements, and those that can be examined in a clinical setting consistently perform no better than placebo. Chewing gum can be tested, and shows demonstrably negligible amounts of carbohydrates, and nothing else. Calling any type of CAM medicine is just as ludicrous as calling chewing gum food.

We don’t allow chewing gum to label itself as part of a well-balanced diet, so we should start coming down on practitioners of CAM who want to label their practices as medicine. Put up or shut up. The gum has a nutrition label. You want your stuff to be called medicine, show that it works like medicine. When the gum has the nutritional qualities of food, then they can call it food. When your modality has the evidence of medicine, then you can call it medicine. Until then, stop calling it that.