Over the past few years, many Americans have heard about complementary and alternative medicine, which is called CAM. In fact, more than one-third of American adults (36 percent) use some form of CAM, notes Catherine Stoney, Ph.D., a Program Officer with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). NCCAM is the federal government's lead agency for scientific research on complementary and alternative medicine, and a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Basically, CAM is composed of medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not now considered to be part of normal medicine. "Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine," says Dr. Stoney, "and alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine."
Questions about CAM?
Talk to Your Doctor
For your health, it is important to inform your medical provider about any complementary and alternative medications (CAM) you take. This is to assure they do not interact negatively with any prescription or over the counter drugs you already may be taking.
To Find Out More
NCCAM has funded more than 1,800 research projects at over 260 institutions across the United States and around the globe, she adds. "For example, research results have shown that using acupuncture for osteoarthritis of the knee is a helpful addition to standard care," Dr. Stoney says. "Patients had a 40 percent reduction in pain and about a 40 percent improvement in function. Also, a 2007 study found that Tai Chi boosts resistance to the shingles virus in older adults."
A primary part of NCCAM's mission is exploring CAM practices in the context of science. As with all NIH institutes and centers, NCCAM grants go through NIH's peer-review process to assure that the highest quality science is funded. NCCAM supports detailed studies to see if the CAM approaches people are using are safe, if they work or do not work, and if they do work, how they work. Good evidence-based research leads to good medicine.
"Patients often do not talk about CAM use with their health care providers," says Dr. Stoney. "An open conversation between health care providers and patients is critical to ensuring safe care."
You can find more about these and other studies on NCCAM's research results page at http://nccam.nih.gov/research/results/.