Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
Be an Informed Consumer
Take charge of your health by being an informed consumer.
Talk with your health care providers when making any decisions about using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Your health care providers can give you advice based on your medical needs.
Learn the Facts
If you are thinking about using a CAM therapy, learn the facts. Is it safe? Does it work?
- Find out what scientific studies have been done. It is not a good idea to use a CAM therapy simply because you have seen it in an advertisement or on a Web site or because people have told you that it worked for them.
- Keep in mind that the number of Web sites offering health-related resources grows every day. Many sites provide valuable information, while others may have information that is unreliable or misleading. To evaluate the quality of a Web site, take a look at who runs the site, who pays for it, and the purpose of the site. Also, check out where the information comes from, how it is selected, and how current it is.
- Scientific research on many CAM therapies is relatively new, so information about safety and effectiveness may not be available for every therapy. However, many studies of CAM treatments are underway, and researchers are always learning more about CAM.
Where to Find Reliable Information
You can find reliable information on CAM through the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). The NCCAM Web site www.nccam.nih.gov provides a variety of useful information as well as links to other trustworthy sources. You can also contact the NCCAM Clearinghouse staff toll-free at 1-888-644-6226 or e-mail email@example.com for help.
Your health care providers and pharmacist are also good resources for learning about CAM. If you are considering a new CAM therapy, ask them about its safety, effectiveness, and possible interactions with medications (both prescription and over-the-counter). If you are planning on surgery, certain supplements may increase the risk of bleeding or affect your response to anesthesia. Your health care team can find the latest scientific studies or help you to understand the results of studies you have found.
Learn About Dietary Supplements
Dietary supplements -- such as vitamins, minerals, and herbs and other botanicals -- can be a form of CAM. Some dietary supplements can interact with your prescription medicines. Supplements may also have side effects if not used correctly, if taken in large amounts, or sometimes even if taken according to the instructions on the label. Also consider the possibility that what’s on the label may not always be what’s in the bottle.
While many supplements come from natural sources, "natural" does not always mean "safe." Natural supplements may have active ingredients that cause strong biological effects in the body. Some supplements will affect how your medicines work.
Also, if you are considering or using dietary supplements, it is important to know that they are not regulated in the same way as drugs. The Federal Government does not review supplements for safety and effectiveness before they are sold. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently established a rule requiring current good manufacturing practices for dietary supplements. The rule will help ensure that dietary supplements are produced in a quality manner, do not contain contaminants or impurities, and are accurately labeled.
Choosing a Qualified Practitioner
For CAM therapies provided by a practitioner, such as acupuncture or chiropractic treatments, choose a practitioner with care.
To find a practitioner, you may want to
- ask a health care provider knowledgeable about CAM if he or she can recommend a practitioner.
- contact a nearby hospital or medical school for guidance. (Some medical centers have CAM practitioners on staff).
- contact a professional organization, regulatory agency, or licensing board for the type of practitioner you are seeking.
A professional organization may be able to give you names of practitioners qualified to practice in your state. To find professional organizations, check with your local library or search the Internet. One useful Internet resource is the National Library of Medicine's Directory of Health Organizations (DIRLINE) at http://dirline.nlm.nih.gov.
Many states have regulatory agencies or licensing boards for certain types of practitioners. They may be able to provide information about practitioners in your area. Your state, city, or county health department may be able to refer you to these agencies or boards.
Questions to Ask Practitioners
Consider making a list of practitioners and contacting them for information before setting up your first visit. You may want to ask questions about their qualifications and practice, such as the following.
- Where were you trained?
- What licenses or certification do you have?
When you select a CAM practitioner, be sure to know the costs involved. Many CAM therapies are not covered by health insurance, so you may want to check with Medicare or your insurer to see if a particular therapy is covered. You may want to ask the practitioner the following questions.
- How many visits will be needed?
- What are the charges for each visit?