(MayoClinic.com) Complementary and alternative medicine treatments, such as herbal remedies and acupuncture, have become more popular as people seek greater control of their own health. But while complementary and alternative medicine, called CAM for short, offers you more options, not all CAM treatments have been proved safe or effective.
When considering CAM treatments, it pays to be a savvy consumer. Be open-minded yet skeptical. Learn about the potential benefits and risks. Gather information from a variety of sources and check the credentials of CAM practitioners. And be sure to talk with your doctor before trying any treatment — especially if you take medications or have chronic health problems.
Look for solid scientific studies
When researching CAM treatments, do like doctors do. Look for high-quality clinical studies. These large, controlled and randomized trials are published in peer-reviewed journals — journals that only publish articles reviewed by independent experts. The results of these studies are more likely to be solid.
Be cautious about studies in animals, laboratory studies or studies that include only a small number of people. Their results may or may not hold up when tested in larger clinical trials. Finally, remember that sound health advice is generally based on a body of research, not a single study.
Although scientific studies are the best way to evaluate whether a treatment is safe and effective, it isn't always possible to find good studies about alternative medicine practices. Keep in mind that a lack of evidence doesn't necessarily mean a treatment doesn't work — but it does mean it hasn't been proved. Don't hesitate to talk with your doctor if you have questions.
Weed out misinformation
The Internet is full of information about alternative medicine treatments, but not all of it is accurate. To weed out the good information from the bad, use the three D's:
Herbal remedies, vitamins and minerals, and all types of dietary supplements are marketed as "natural" products, but they can have drug-like effects that can be dangerous. Even some vitamins and minerals can cause problems when taken in excessive amounts. So it's important to do your homework and investigate potential benefits and side effects of dietary and herbal supplements. Play it safe with these tips:
Scammers have perfected ways to convince you that their alternative medicine products are the best. These opportunists often target people who are overweight or who have medical conditions for which there is no cure, such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS and arthritis. Remember if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be alert for these red flags:
Take care when choosing an alternative medicine practitioner. Picking a name out of the phone book isn't the safest way to select a practitioner. Instead, try these tips from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM):
Ideally the various forms of treatments you select should work together with the care of your conventional doctor. You may find that certain alternative treatments help you maintain your health and relieve some of your symptoms. But continue to rely on conventional medicine to diagnose a problem and treat diseases. Don't change your conventional treatment — such as your dose of prescribed medication — without talking to your doctor first. For your safety, be sure to tell your doctor about all alternative treatments you use.
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