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Measuring Effectiveness

How can I determine whether statements made about the effectiveness of a CAM therapy are true?

Statements that manufacturers and providers of CAM therapies may make about the effectiveness of a therapy and its other benefits can sound reasonable and promising. However, they may or may not be backed up by scientific evidence. Before you begin using a CAM treatment, it is a good idea to ask the following questions:

  • Is there scientific evidence (not just personal stories) to back up the statements? Ask the manufacturer or the practitioner for scientific articles or the results of studies. They should be willing to share this information, if it exists.

  • Does the Federal Government have anything to report about the therapy?

  • Visit the FDA online at www.fda.gov to see if there is any information available about the product or practice. Information specifically about dietary supplements can be found on FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Web site at www.cfsan.fda.gov. Or visit the FDA's Web page on recalls and safety alerts at www.fda.gov/opacom/7alerts.html.

  • Check with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftc.gov to see if there are any fraudulent claims or consumer alerts regarding the therapy. Visit the Diet, Health, and Fitness Consumer Information Web site at www.ftc.gov/bcp/menu-health.htm.

  • Visit the NCCAM Web site, nccam.nih.gov, or call the NCCAM Clearinghouse to see if NCCAM has any information or scientific findings to report about the therapy.

  • How does the provider or manufacturer describe the treatment? The FDA advises that certain types of language may sound impressive but actually disguise a lack of science. Be wary of terminology such as "innovation," "quick cure," "miracle cure," "exclusive product," "new discovery," or "magical discovery." Watch out for claims of a "secret formula." If a therapy were a cure for a disease, it would be widely reported and prescribed or recommended. Legitimate scientists want to share their knowledge so that their peers can review their data. Be suspicious of phrases like "suppressed by Government" or claims that the medical profession or research scientists have conspired to prevent a therapy from reaching the public. Finally, be wary of claims that something cures a wide range of unrelated diseases (for example, cancer, diabetes, and AIDS). No product can treat every disease and condition.

 

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Are CAM therapies tested to see if they work?

While some scientific evidence exists regarding the effectiveness of some CAM therapies, for most there are key questions that are yet to be answered through well-designed scientific studies--questions such as whether they are safe, how they work, and whether they work for the diseases or medical conditions for which they are used.

NCCAM is the Federal Government's lead agency on scientific research of CAM. NCCAM supports research on CAM therapies to determine if they work, how they work, whether they are effective, and who might benefit most from the use of specific therapies.

WebMD Public Information from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Reviewed on February 01, 2004

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