The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is a government agency tasked with (among other things), “[exploring] complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science.” In this space we have talked about NCCAM quite a bit, but I have to admit that I don’t think about them very much. The other day, though, I was reading though JAMA and I came across a study funded by the agency. The study, which showed that Ginkgo does not prevent Alzheimer’s-type dementia, was pretty good, so I cruised on over to NCCAM’s website to see what else they’ve been up to.
A quick glance at NCCAM’s front page:
- “Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory (GEM) Study Fails To Show Benefit in Preventing Dementia in the Elderly”
- “CAM and Hepatitis C: A Focus on Herbal Supplements ‘No CAM treatment has yet been proven effective for treating hepatitis C or its complications.'”
- “Selenium and Vitamin E in Prostate Cancer Prevention Study, ‘selenium and vitamin E supplements, taken either alone or together, did not prevent prostate cancer.'”
It seems that NCCAM is finding out something we already strongly suspected: improbable medical claims are usually wrong. Since that’s not how they see things, and since I don’t believe that there is such a thing as alternative medicine, I was curious how they defined CAM.
CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. Conventional medicine is medicine as practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degrees and by their allied health professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists, and registered nurses. Some health care providers practice both CAM and conventional medicine. While some scientific evidence exists regarding some CAM therapies, for most there are key questions that are yet to be answered through well-designed scientific studies–questions such as whether these therapies are safe and whether they work for the diseases or medical conditions for which they are used.
The list of what is considered to be CAM changes continually, as those therapies that are proven to be safe and effective become adopted into conventional health care and as new approaches to health care emerge. emphasis mine, ed.
The list of NCCAM studies appears to fall into three broad categories.