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Frequently Asked Questions About Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Considering Complementary and Alternative Medicine Therapies?

What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

How Can I Find More Information about Complementary and Alternative Medical Practices?

How Can I Find a Practitioner in My Area?

Can I Receive an Alternative Treatment at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)?

Will My Experience Help in the Evaluation of Complementary and Alternative Medical Therapies?

Will the NCCAM Evaluate My Own Invention or Treatment?

Can Complementary and Alternative Medicine Be Investigated Using the Same Methods Used in Conventional Medicine?

What Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) covers a broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies. Generally, it is defined as those treatments and healthcare practices not taught widely in medical schools, not generally used in hospitals, and not usually reimbursed by medical insurance companies. 

Many therapies are termed “holistic,” which generally means that the healthcare practitioner considers the whole person, including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Many therapies are also known as “preventive,” which means that the practitioner educates and treats the person to prevent health problems from arising, rather than treating symptoms after problems have occurred.

People use these treatments and therapies in a variety of ways. Therapies are used alone (often referred to as alternative), in combination with other alternative therapies, or in addition to conventional therapies (sometimes referred to as complementary).

Some approaches are consistent with physiological principles of Western medicine, while others constitute healing systems with a different origin. While some therapies are far outside the realm of accepted Western medical theory and practice, others are becoming established in mainstream medicine.

How Can I Find More Information about Complementary and Alternative Medical Practices? 

Ask your healthcare provider about complementary and alternative medical treatments and practices in general, and about those particular practices used for your specific health problems.

Increasingly, healthcare providers are becoming familiar with alternative treatments or are able to refer you to someone who is. For scientific information about the safety and effectiveness of a particular treatment, ask your healthcare provider to obtain valid information for you.

If your healthcare provider cannot provide information, medical libraries, public libraries, and popular bookstores are good places to find information about particular complementary and alternative medical practices.

Other resources for information are the 27 Institutes and Centers (ICs) at the NIH. For information on a wide range of specific diseases or medical conditions, call (301) 496-4000 and ask the operator to direct you to the appropriate NIH office.

Also, you may want to ask practitioners of complementary and alternative healthcare about their practices. Many practitioners belong to a growing number of professional associations, educational organizations, and research institutions that provide information about complementary and alternative medical practices. Many organizations are developing Internet Web sites. Most internet browser programs will have a mechanism for searching the World Wide Web by keyword or concept.

Remember that these organizations may advocate a specific therapy or treatment and may be unable to provide complete and objective health information.

If you have access to a computer with an Internet connection, you may be able to search medical libraries and databases for specific conditions and alternative medical treatments. The NCCAM’s online database, the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Citation Index (CCI), is comprised of approximately 180,000 bibliographic records describing much of the CAM research that has been published over the last 35 years.  The CCI’s user-friendly, menu-driven interface allows for searches by various diseases or conditions, alternative medicine techniques or systems, and types of literature.

You may also try accessing and searching MEDLINE, one of the many computer databases available at the National Library of Medicine. Also, you may want to contact the NCCAM Clearinghouse to obtain the fact sheet, “Alternative Medicine Research Using MEDLINE.”

How Can I Find a Practitioner in My Area?

To find a qualified complementary and alternative medical healthcare practitioner, you may want to contact medical regulatory and licensing agencies in your state.

These agencies may be able to provide information about a specific practitioner’s credentials and background. Many states license practitioners who provide alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic services, naturopathy, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and massage therapy.

You may also locate practitioners by asking your healthcare provider, or by contacting a professional association or organization. These organizations can provide names of local practitioners, and provide information about how to determine the quality of a specific practitioner’s services. Contact the NCCAM Clearinghouse to obtain the fact sheet, “Considering Complementary and Alternative Therapies”, which provides helpful hints and questions to consider when choosing an alternative healthcare practitioner.

Also, you may find complementary and alternative healthcare practitioners by asking people you trust, like friends and family members, who may have experience with practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine.

Can I Receive an Alternative Treatment at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)?

The NCCAM is not a treatment facility and cannot answer specific medical questions. The NCCAM cannot make referrals to individual practitioners or recommend particular therapies for patients.

Will My Experience Help in the Evaluation of Complementary and Alternative Medical Therapies?

Many people write to the NCCAM with their own testimony about a successful treatment or a particular healer or healthcare practitioner. To have this information reviewed, people may ask their practitioners whether he/she is collecting information on the success of their treatments. A practitioner can collect and organize the information and present it to the NCCAM once there is sufficient data to make a case for the effectiveness of a particular treatment.

Will the NCCAM Evaluate My Own Invention or Treatment?

Many people contact the NCCAM with ideas for alternative medical cures. To have a method or cure tested, one must formulate a research protocol. This entails collaborating with individuals who have expertise in research and evaluation, if one does not possess this expertise.

The NCCAM supports rigorous research into a range of alternative medical treatments either by awarding grants or by setting up studies. For further information, please contact the NCCAM Clearinghouse to obtain the “Research Information Package.”

Can Complementary and Alternative Medicine Be Investigated Using the Same Methods Used in Conventional Medicine? 

People sometimes ask whether the NCCAM uses the same standard of science as conventional medicine. Complementary and alternative medicine needs to be investigated using the same scientific methods used in conventional medicine. The NCCAM encourages valid information about complementary and alternative medicine, applying at least as rigorous, and, in some cases, even more rigorous research methods than the current standard in conventional medicine. This is because the research often involves novel concepts and claims, and uses complex systems of practice that need systematic, explicit, and comprehensive knowledge and skills to investigate.

StopGettingSick Team

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