National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

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Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.

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Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.

Be an Informed Consumer … Do Your Homework

August 4, 2010

Recently, I was very disappointed to read an inaccurate news story that appeared in a respected consumer health publication (Prevention Magazine) and was picked up by the major news outlet MSNBC. The article stated that NCCAM and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had endorsed “9 Natural Cures You Can Trust.” This is not the first time—and will probably not be the last time—that such a misrepresentation of the facts has been disseminated, but I’d like to set the record straight.

Simply put, the article does not accurately portray the state of the science nor the perspective of NIH. First, it significantly overstates the strength of the evidence available, which in most cases is derived from small preliminary studies. While interesting, these data cannot be viewed as a sufficient basis for unequivocal government recommendations, much less use of the word “cure.” Second, neither NCCAM, NIH, nor I endorse the use of these complementary and alternative medicine practices, products, or therapies.

So, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware)—I urge you to be a wise consumer and get the facts before you use any dietary supplement or CAM product or practice. In particular, remember that “natural” does not necessarily mean safe, and that some herbal supplements can interact in harmful ways with other drugs, medications, or dietary supplements you may be taking.

I encourage you to look to the NCCAM Web site to read about making wise decisions about CAM use and to read our fact sheets about various CAM modalities and herbal supplements. Always talk to your health care providers about any CAM therapies you may be using or considering to ensure safe and coordinated care.

Through our research, we are building the evidence base on CAM, but we don’t have enough information to proclaim cures and to always ensure safety. Headlines sell, but science must be the bedrock. Consumers need to look beyond the hype and get the facts.

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