National Institutes of Health Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Many Americans use complementary and alternative medicineA group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine, and alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. (CAM) in pursuit of health and well-being. The 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which included a comprehensive survey of CAM use by Americans, showed that approximately 38 percent of adults use CAM. This fact sheet presents an overview of CAM, types of CAM, summary information on safety and regulation, the mission of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), and additional resources. Rigorous, well-designed clinical trials for many CAM therapies are often lacking; therefore, the safety and effectiveness of many CAM therapies are uncertain. NCCAM is sponsoring research designed to fill this knowledge gap by building a scientific evidence base about CAM therapies—whether they are safe; and whether they work for the conditions for which people use them and, if so, how they work.

As with any medical treatment, there can be risks with CAM therapies. These general precautions can help to minimize risks:

Select CAM practitioners with care. Find out about the practitioner's training and experience.
Be aware that some dietary supplements may interact with medications or other supplements, may have side effects of their own, or may contain potentially harmful ingredients not listed on the label. Also keep in mind that most supplements have not been tested in pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children.
Tell all your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. For tips about talking with your health care providers about CAM, see NCCAM's Time to Talk campaign.
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