2008-02-24 21:47:54 UTC
The Paper of Montgomery County
Friday, February 15, 2008
Ifm frequently asked by patients to comment on the use of 'non-
medical" treatments or remedies they have heard or read about on TV,
radio or in print. I usually have to respond that I have limited
knowledge about the product but I will do some research on it for
The business of complimentary and alternative medicine or 'CAM" is
booming. This is largely an outgrowth of patient frustration with
traditional medical practice in America. People are fed up with the
high cost of medications and other treatments and are looking for less
expensive 'natural" ways to deal with illness and health promotion. A
study ten years ago estimated that US citizens spent between $36
billion and $47 billion on CAM treatments. This was more than the
public paid out-of-pocket on hospitalizations that year.
Most physicians trained in this country receive little or no education
in CAM treatments in medical school or afterwards. We are trained in
the scientific method from an early age and rely on carefully designed
medical studies to provide evidence that the likelihood of a specific
treatment working is not simply due to chance. We are therefore very
uncomfortable recommending or even commenting on treatments that we do
not feel have passed scientific scrutiny.
Scientific studies that have examined CAM treatments are scarce. To
help alleviate this gap in knowledge, Congress established in 1998 the
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a
branch of the National Institutes of Health. It 'is dedicated to
exploring complementary and alternative healing practices in the
context of rigorous science; training complementary and alternative
medicine (CAM) researchers; and disseminating authoritative
information to the public and professionals."
When researching a product, I typically start by going to the NCCAM
website at www.nccam.nih.gov to see if there is any information there.
If not, I resort to an Internet search to find information about the
product or its ingredients. The difficulty with Internet search
engines like Google is that the majority of the web sites that come up
are posted by manufacturers or sellers of the product. These sites
frequently look very professional.
The sites often have testimonials from physicians or other scientists
who are being well paid to support the product. There are frequently
anecdotal stories of people who have received benefit from the
product. I must stress to the readers that these sites are NOT the
place to go for unbiased information. You should look for sites from
academic or clinical institutions if possible. The URLs (Internet
addresses) for reputable sites often end in '.edu" or '.org" rather
than '.com." You should avoid any site that is also selling the
Some web pages or advertisements go so far as to say that physicians,
scientists, the Government and others (particularly pharmaceutical
companies) are suppressing evidence that their product works. I donft
believe there is any vast conspiracy to prevent these types of
products from being marketed. There is, however, concern that they are
being marketed without scientific evidence that they produce the
desired effect and that they are any safer than other treatments that
do have scientific backing.
Hopefully agencies such as NCCAM will be a source of reliable
information for the public so informed choices can be made. In the
meantime, if you read that a product claims to cure one or more major
medical illnesses think to yourself, 'wouldnft that make the front
page of every newspaper on the planet?"
Dr. John Roberts is a local family physician and a Wabash College
graduate. He is also one of the owners of The Paper of Montgomery
County. You can contact him at
***@thepaper24-7.com, or c/o The Paper of Montgomery County, 101
W. Main St., Crawfordsville, Ind.
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