Are CAM Therapies Safe?

Each treatment needs to be considered on its own. However, here are some issues to think about when considering a CAM therapy.

  • Many consumers believe that "natural" means the same thing as "safe." This is not necessarily true. For example, think of mushrooms that grow in the wild: some are safe to eat, while others are poisonous.
  • Individuals respond differently to treatments. How a person might respond to a CAM treatment depends on many things, including the person's state of health, how the treatment is used, or the person's belief in the treatment.
  • For a CAM product that is sold over the counter (without a prescription), such as a dietary supplement. A product that contains vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and/or other ingredients intended to supplement the diet. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has special labeling requirements for dietary supplements, safety can also depend on a number of things:
  • The components or ingredients that make up the product.
  • Where the components or ingredients come from.
  • The quality of the manufacturing process (for example, how well the manufacturer is able to avoid contamination).

The manufacturer of a dietary supplement is responsible for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the product before it is sold. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot require testing of dietary supplements prior to marketing. However, while manufacturers are prohibited from selling dangerous products, the FDA can remove a product from the marketplace if the product is dangerous to the health of Americans. Furthermore, if in the labeling or marketing of a dietary supplement a claim is made that the product can diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease, such as "cures cancer," the product is said to be an unapproved new drug and is, therefore, being sold illegally. Such claims must have scientific proof.
For CAM therapies that are administered by a practitioner, the training, skill, and experience of the practitioner affect safety. However, in spite of careful and skilled practice, all treatments--whether CAM or conventional--can have risks.

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