Are you considering Complementary and Alternative Medicine?
Decisions about your health care are important–including decisions about whether to use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) offers information to assist you in your decision making about CAM.
Take charge of your health by being an informed consumer. Find out what scientific studies have been done on the safety and effectiveness of the CAM treatment in which you are interested.
Decisions about medical care and treatment should be made in consultation with a health care provider and based on the condition and needs of each person. Discuss information on CAM with your health care provider before making any decisions about treatment or care.
Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
If you use a CAM therapy provided by a practitioner, such as acupuncture, choose the practitioner with care. Check with your insurer to see if the services will be covered.
How can I get reliable information about a CAM therapy?
Talk to your health care practitioner(s). Tell them about the therapy you are considering and ask any questions you may have about safety, effectiveness, or interactions with medications (prescription or non-prescription). They may be able to advise you on its safety and use. If your practitioner cannot answer your questions, he may be able to refer you to someone who can.
Use the Internet to search medical libraries and databases for information. One database called CAM on PubMed, developed by NCCAM and the National Library of Medicine, gives citations or abstracts (brief summaries) of the results of scientific studies on CAM. In some cases, it provides links to publishers’ Web sites where you may be able to view or obtain the full articles. The articles cited in CAM on PubMed are peer-reviewed-that is, other scientists in the same field have reviewed the article, the data, and the conclusions, and judged them to be accurate and important to the field. Another database,International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements, is useful for searching the scientific literature on dietary supplements.
If you do not have access to the Internet, contact the NCCAM Clearinghouse, 1-888-644-6226. The staff is available to discuss your needs with you and assist you in searching the peer-reviewed medical and scientific literature.
Visit your local library or a medical library to see if there are books or publications that contain scientific articles discussing CAM in general or the treatment in which you are interested. Thousands of articles on health issues and CAM are published in books and scientific journals every year. A reference librarian can help you
Many consumers believe that “natural” means the same thing as “safe.” This is not necessarily true. For example, think of mushrooms that grow in the wild: some are safe to eat, while others are poisonous.
Individuals respond differently to treatments. How a person might respond to a CAM treatment depends on many things, including the person’s state of health, how the treatment is used. For a CAM product that is sold over the counter (without a prescription), such as a dietary supplement, safety can also depend on a number of things:
- The components or ingredients that make up the product.
- Where the components or ingredients come from.
- The quality of the manufacturing process (for example, how well the manufacturer is able to avoid contamination).
The manufacturer of a dietary supplement is responsible for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the product before it is sold. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot require testing of dietary supplements prior to marketing. However, while manufacturers are prohibited from selling dangerous products, the FDA can remove a product from the marketplace if the product is dangerous to the health of Americans.
Visit the FDA online to see if there is any information available about the product or practice. Information specifically about dietary supplements can be found on FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Web site.
Check with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to see if there are any fraudulent claims or consumer alerts regarding the therapy.
Yes, there can be risks, as with any medical therapy.
Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. For example,herbal or botanical products and other dietary supplements may interact with medications (prescription or non-prescription). They may also have negative, even dangerous, effects