Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)
CAM Research and Diseases Affecting Older Adults
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funds research into the safety and effectiveness of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies. Much of the research looks at CAM for medical conditions that are common in older people, such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer's disease.
Heart Disease Research
NIH supports many studies of CAM and heart disease, including studies of
- chelation therapy
- ginkgo biloba.
Chelation Therapy and Heart Disease
NIH is leading a large, nationwide study to find out whether chelation therapy is safe and effective for people with heart disease. Chelation uses a chemical called EDTA to remove heavy metals from the body.
Meditation and Heart Disease
Researchers are also conducting studies of how meditation and related practices affect heart disease. One study is looking at whether a technique called mindfulness-based stress reduction can help patients who have high blood pressure.
Gingko Biloba and Heart Disease
Part of a large study called the Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory (GEM) study found that ginkgo biloba was not effective in lowering blood pressure, reducing the incidence of hypertension, or preventing heart attacks or strokes. The study did show some evidence in a small number of patients that ginkgo biloba may help prevent peripheral arterial disease.
Garlic and Heart Disease
In another study, researchers are focusing on ways that garlic might prevent blood clots, which can lead to a heart attack. Research shows that garlic can thin the blood in a manner similar to aspirin. An earlier study found that garlic does not seem to lower LDL, the "bad cholesterol" that increases heart disease risk.
NIH-supported research into CAM therapies for cancer includes studies of
- vitamin E and selenium.
Acupuncture and Cancer
Researchers have found evidence that acupuncture can reduce nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy. Other researchers are currently studying whether acupuncture can relieve shortness of breath among breast cancer and lung cancer patients, help with difficulty swallowing in patients with head and neck cancer after chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and improve quality of life in patients with advanced ovarian and colorectal.
Acupuncture is one of many CAM therapies that people with cancer seek out -- not as cures, but as complementary therapies that may help them feel better and recover faster.
Massage and Cancer
Studies are evaluating whether massage can help people who have cancer cope with various physical and emotional challenges. Researchers are looking at whether massage can reduce fatigue, pain, and swelling related to cancer.
Vitamin E, Selenium and Cancer
Vitamin E and selenium are dietary supplements that were tested in a large study for prostate cancer prevention. The study, known as SELECT (the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial) found that the supplements, taken either alone or together, did not prevent prostate cancer. More than 35,000 men age 50 and over participated in this study. The researchers will continue to monitor the volunteers' health for another 3 years to learn more about prostate cancer and other diseases faced by older men.
NIH-supported research into CAM therapies for osteoarthritis, the most common kind of arthritis, include studies of
- glucosamine and chondroitin.
Acupuncture and Osteoarthritis
A study of acupuncture in people with osteoarthritis of the knee recently found that the therapy can reduce pain and improve ability to function in people with this condition. The study was the largest, lengthiest acupuncture study of its kind.
Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and Osteoarthritis
In a study of the dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin in people with pain from osteoarthritis of the knee, the combination did not help the participants as a whole, but it did help a small group of people with moderate-to-severe pain. A follow-up study, showed that the supplements, together or alone, also appeared to fare no better than placebo in slowing the loss of cartilage in knee osteoarthritis.
Alzheimer’s Disease Research
NIH-supported research into CAM therapies for Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia (age-related changes in memory, thinking ability, and personality) includes studies of
- ginkgo biloba
- B vitamins
- omega-3 fatty acids.
Gingko Biloba and Alzheimer’s Disease
Although researchers had hoped that extracts from the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree might be of some help in preventing dementia, the GEM study mentioned above found that the ginkgo product researched was not effective in delaying or preventing Alzheimer's disease, other types of dementia, or general cognitive decline. This study, which recruited more than 3,000 volunteers age 75 and over, was the largest study ever to investigate ginkgo's effect on dementia.
Antioxidants and Alzheimer’s Disease
Some studies are considering whether antioxidants -- such as vitamin E and C -- can slow Alzheimer's. One clinical trial is examining whether vitamin E and/or selenium supplements can prevent Alzheimer's or stop mental decline. More studies on other antioxidants are ongoing or being planned.
B Vitamins and Alzheimer’s Disease
Studies have shown that people with Alzheimer's often have higher levels of an amino acid called homocysteine in their blood. High levels of homocysteine are known to increase the risk of heart disease. Folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 can reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood, and scientists are conducting clinical trials to see whether these substances can also slow rates of mental decline.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Alzheimer’s Disease
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in the oil of certain fish. Studies are looking at whether omega-3 supplements can slow the progression of Alzheimer's.
To Learn More
You can learn more about CAM research at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Web site at www.nccam.nih.gov. The Web site includes summaries of ongoing research and results from recent studies.