Are You Considering a Complementary Health Approach to Healthcare?

health, decisions about whether to use complementary approaches are important. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has devel- oped this fact sheet to assist you in your decisionmaking about complementary health products and practices.

M Take Charge of Your Health

• Be an informed consumer. Find out and consider what scientific studies have been done on the safety and effective- ness of any health approach that is recommended to or interests you.

• Discuss the information and your in- terests with your health care providers before making a decision.

• Choose a complementary health prac- titioner, such as an acupuncturist, as carefully as you would choose a con- ventional health care provider.

• Before using any dietary supplement or herbal product, make sure you find out about potential side effects or inter- actions with medications you may be


illions of Americans use comple- mentary health approaches. Like any decision concerning your


• Only use treatments for your condition that have been proven safe. Do not use a product or practice that has not been proven to be effective to postpone seeing your health care provider for your con- dition.

• Tell all your health care providers— complementary and conventional— about all the health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

What do “complementary,” alternative,” and “integrative” mean?

“Complementary and alternative

medicine,” “complementary medicine,” “alternative medicine,” “integrative medi- cine”—you may have seen these terms on the Internet and in marketing, but what do they really mean? While the terms are often used to mean the array of health care approaches with a history of use or origins outside of mainstream medicine, they are actually hard to define and may mean dif- ferent things to different people. The terms complementary and inte-

grative refer to the use of non-mainstream approaches together with conventional

medical approaches. Alternative health approaches refer to the use of non-mainstream products or practices in place of conventional medi- cine. NCCIH advises against using any product or practice that has not been proven safe and effective as a substitute for conventional medical treatment or as a reason to postpone seeing your health care provider about any health problem. In some instances, stopping—or not start- ing—conventional treatment can have serious consequences. Before making a decision not to use a proven conventional treatment, talk to your health care provid- ers.

How can I get reliable information about a complementary health approach? It's important to learn what scientific

studies have discovered about the comple- mentary health approach you're consider- ing. Evidence from research studies is stronger and more reliable than something you've seen in an advertisement or on a Web site, or something someone told you about that worked for them. (For tips on how to evaluate Web site information, see the NCCIH fact sheet Finding and Evaluat- ing Online Resources on Complementary Health Approaches.)

Understanding a product's or prac-

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