tice's potential benefits, risks, and scien- tific evidence is critical to your health and safety. Scientific research on many com- plementary health approaches is rela- tively new, so this kind of information may not be available for each one. However, many studies are under way, including those that NCCIH supports, and knowl- edge and understanding of complemen- tary approaches are increasing all the time. Here are some ways to find reliable infor- mation:

• Talk with your health care providers. Tell them about the complementary health approach you're considering and ask any questions you may have about safety, effectiveness, or interactions with medications (prescription or nonpre- scription) or dietary supplements.

• Visit the NCCIH Web site (nccih.nih. gov). The “Health Information” page has an A-Z list of complementary health products and practices, which describes what the science says about them, and links to other objective sources of online information. The Web site also has con- tact information for the NCCIH Clear- inghouse, where information specialists are available to assist you in searching the scientific literature and to suggest useful NCCIH publications. You can also find information from NCCIH on Face- book (, Twitter (, YouTube ( cih), and Pinterest ( nccih).

• Visit your local library or a medical library. Ask the reference librarian to help you find scientific journals and trustworthy books with information on the product or practice that interests you.

Are complementary health approaches safe?

As with any medical product or treat-

ment, there can be risks with complemen- tary approaches. These risks depend on the specific product or practice. Each needs to be considered on its own. However, if you're considering a specific product or practice, the following general suggestions can help you think about safety and minimize risks.

Once you have found a possible prac-

titioner, here are some tips about deciding whether he or she is right for you:

~ Find out whether the practitioner is willing to work together with your conventional health care providers. For safe, coordinated care, it’s impor-

• Be aware that individuals respond differently to health products and prac- tices, whether conventional or comple- mentary. How you might respond to one depends on many things, including your state of health, how you use it, or your belief in it. Keep in mind that “natural” does not necessarily mean “safe.” (Think of mushrooms that grow in the wild: some are safe to eat, while others are not.) Learn about factors that affect safety. For a practice that is administered by a practitioner, such as chiropractic, these factors include the training, skill, and experience of the practitioner. For a product such as a dietary supplement, the specific ingredients and the quality of the manufacturing process are impor- tant factors.

• If you decide to use a practice pro- vided by a complementary health prac- titioner, choose the practitioner as care- fully as you would your primary health care provider.

Here are some tips to help you in your search:

~ If you need names of practitioners in your area, first check with your doctor or other health care provider. A nearby hospital or medical school, professional organizations, state regu- latory agencies or licensing boards, or even your health insurance provider may be helpful. Unfortunately, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) can- not refer you to practitioners.

~ Find out as much as you can about any potential practitioner, including education, training, licensing, and certifications. The credentials required for complementary health practitio- ners vary tremendously from state to state and from discipline to discipline.

~ Tell all your health care providers about the complementary approaches you use and about all practitioners who are treating you. Keeping your health care providers fully informed helps you to stay in control and ef- fectively manage your health.

• If you decide to use a dietary supple- ment, such as an herbal product, be aware that some products may interact in harmful ways with medications (pre- scription or over-the-counter) or other dietary supplements, and some may have side effects on their own.

• Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coor- dinated and safe care.

How can I determine whether statements made about the effectiveness of a comple- mentary health approach are true? Before you begin using a complemen- tary health approach, it’s a good idea to ask the following questions:

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tant for all of the professionals in- volved in your health to communicate and cooperate.

~ Explain all of your health conditions to the practitioner, and find out about the practitioner’s training and experi- ence in working with people who have your conditions. Choose a prac- titioner who understands how to work with people with your specific needs, even if general well-being is your goal. And, remember that health conditions can affect the safety of complemen- tary approaches; for example, if you have glaucoma, some yoga poses may not be safe for you.

~Don’t assume that your health insur- ance will cover the practitioner’s services. Contact your health insur- ance provider and ask. Insurance plans differ greatly in what comple- mentary health approaches they cover, and even if they cover a par- ticular approach, restrictions may apply.

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