Wise Health Care Choices  »  Complementary & Alternative Medicine

Products and services of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) may be safe and effective. A lack of scientific research to prove this, though, is one reason they are not part of mainstream medicine. Things that are CAM methods today, could become a part of mainstream medicine in the future.

How can you tell if a CAM product or service is one you should use? Follow these tips:

  1. Use credible sources for information:

  2. -“CAM on PubMed.” Contact the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Clearinghouse at 888.644.6226 or www.nccam.nih.gov. An “Alerts and Advisories” section is also listed on the Web site.

  3. -PDR for Herbal Medicines. Look for this book at your local library or bookstore.

  4. -Your doctor, health care provider, or pharmacist. Discuss conventional and alternative treatments you use now and ones you are thinking about trying. Find out if an herbal product, megadose of a vitamin, etc. could be harmful with other medicines you take or conditions you have. Ask for a referral or list of practitioners who are trained and certified in the alternative medicine you want to explore.

  5. -Local and state medical boards, other health regulatory agencies or boards, and consumer affairs departments. These give information on a provider’s credentials and about reported problems with products and services.

  6. Avoid products and services that claim to  have “secret formulas” or “miraculous breakthroughs.” Just because a product is labeled “natural,” doesn’t mean it’s safe.

  7. Females who are planning to get pregnant, are pregnant, or who breast-feed should not use herbal products unless directed by a doctor. They should also take vitamin supplements as advised. For a list of herbs to avoid during pregnancy, access The American Pregnancy Association’s Web site at www.americanpregnancy.org.

  8. Give nutritional supplements to children as advised by their doctors.

Follow the directions on the product label. Report unwanted side effects to your doctor or health care provider.

Consider costs, too. Health plans do not usually pay for CAM methods. Some therapies, such as chiropractic, may be covered. Find out if a chiropractor (or other CAM provider) accepts your health insurance. Ask, too, if you need a referral from your doctor for any or all of the costs to be covered.


Herbs and other nutritional supplements can act in the same way as drugs. Check with your doctor before you take them.

Health problems using herbs can result from:

  1. The contents of a product. Some have harmful metals, organisms, etc.

  2. Taking too much.

  3. Interactions with medications.

  4. Effects on existing medical conditions.



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Alternative Medicine Foundation


Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition  888.723.3366  |  www.cfsan.fda.gov

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

888.644.6226  |  www.nccam.nih.gov

Office of Dietary Supplements