Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM): Part I: Resources from the National Institutes of Health

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM):

Part I: Resources from the National Institutes of Health

By Evelyn Cunico, M.A., M.S.
Posted July 30, 2014

Definitions

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the Federal
Government’s lead agency for complementary health practices, defines CAM as a group of diverse medical and health care interventions, practices, products, or disciplines that are not generally considered part of conventional, or mainstream, medicine.

“Complementary” means, using a non-mainstream approach together with conventional medicine. “Alternative” means, using a non-mainstream approach in place of conventional medicine.

Defining CAM is difficult, because the boundaries between complementary and conventional medicine change with time. For example, “guided imagery,” once considered complementary or alternative, is used regularly now in some hospitals as a relaxation technique for health.

Safety and Effectiveness

Many CAM therapies have not been researched and tested in scientifically rigorous clinical trials. Therefore, the safety and effectiveness of many CAM therapies are uncertain.

In 1998, the U.S. Congress established NCCAM, to investigate and evaluate promising unconventional medical practices. NCCAM sponsors scientific research to find whether CAM therapies are safe, whether they are effective for the conditions for which people use them, and if so, how they work.

 General Precautions

  • As with any medical treatment, there can be risks with CAM therapies. The following general precautions can help to minimize risks.

    Select CAM practitioners with care. Credentials required for complementary health practitioners vary a lot from state to state. If you need names of local practitioners, first ask your medical doctor. For safe, coordinated care, ask whether a practitioner is willing to work together with your medical doctor. Find out whether a practitioner’s training and experience is with persons who have your health conditions. Also, ask your health insurance provider whether your plan pays for practitioner services.

    For more, see, “Six Things to Know When Selecting a Complementary Health Practitioner.”

  • Educate yourself about any supplement you are considering. Some dietary supplements may interact with medications or other supplements. Supplements may have side effects of their own. And, supplements may contain potentially harmful ingredients that are not listed on the label.

    For more, see, “What You Should Know about Five Popular Herbs.”

  • Tell each of your health care providers about complementary and alternative practices, as well as conventional medicine, that you use. Make a complete list before you visit the office of a medical doctor or complementary health practitioner. You can refer to your list when completing patient history forms.

    For more, see, “Time to Talk with Your Health Care Providers: Four Tips to Start the Conversation.”

More Information

For more information from the NCCAM website, as well as via email, RSS, Twitter, or Facebook, see, “Time to Talk Tips on Complementary Health Practices.” 

A disclaimer: The information presented in this blog should not replace the medical advice of your doctor. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease without first consulting with your medical doctor or other healthcare provider.

 References

 National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). “Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s in a Name?”
(Accessed 30 July 2014)

 National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. “Organization – The NIH Almanac.”
(
Accessed 15 June 2014)

 National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). “Relaxation Techniques for Health: An Introduction.”
(
Accessed 30 July 2014)

National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). “Six Things to Know When Selecting a Complementary Health Practitioner.”
(Accessed 28 July 2014)

National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). “Time to Talk Tips on Complementary Health Practices.”
(Accessed 14 June 2014)

National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). “Time to Talk with Your Health Care Providers: Four Tips to Start the Conversation.”
(Accessed 14 June 2014)

National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). “What You Should Know About Five Popular Herbs.”
(Accessed 28 July 2014)