Getting the best from CAM

Updated Thursday, 16th October 2008
Follow freelance journalist Jane Feinmann's suggestions for getting the most from alternative therapies.

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If you're interested in trying Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) therapies, then you're certainly not alone. But how can you make sure that you get the best from CAM? To get you started here's a checklist of tips that should help you along the way:

1. To find out which therapy is best suited for your particular health problem, talk to your GP, your local complementary medicine centre (many clinics provide different forms of therapy and will advise on which is most suitable), as well as seeking personal recommendations.

2. Find out about regulation of CAM: A new regulatory body called the Complementary nd Natural Healthcare Council is launching during 2008. The new organisation will protect the public by vetting CAM practitioners.

3. Be sceptical of claims made on the Internet. Professor Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at Plymouth's Peninsula Medical School, recently analysed the content of 32 popular cancer web-sites and warned of a proliferation of bad advice, encouraging the use of unproven and potentially dangerous therapies: "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Don't believe ridiculous claims." However, there are authoritative, evidence-based web-sites. CAM on PubMed contains citations to journal articles related to complementary and alternative medicine. It was developed jointly by the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) to help people search easily for journal articles related to a variety of CAM therapies.

4. Average fees charged by CAM pracitioners are £25-£45 per session. Some practitioners offer discounts if a course of treatment is necessary. Always enquire how much the total cost of your treatment is likely to be so that you are prepared. Many private medical insurers now cover the more established complementary therapies and some therapies are available on the NHS, in GP surgeries and hospitals. If you are looking for low-cost treatment, try contacting training institutions for the individual therapies. Many colleges run clinics at which carefully supervised trainees practise for low fees. Standards of care are often very high at these clinics because of the high level of supervision involved.

5. When approaching a new therapist, expect to be given time to discuss your health problem before embarking on a course of treatment. Always trust your instinct – if you don't feel comfortable with a therapist, walk away.

6. Be prepared to ask questions to check qualifications and experience. Ask what training your practitioner has undergone and what the letters after their name mean. Find out how long they have been practising and what experience they have in treating your particular problem.

7. You should make sure your practitioner is covered by professional indemnity insurance in case something goes wrong - most receive this cover as part of their registration with their professional body.

8. Always keep your GP informed of any complementary therapies you are having and the outcome. This is absolutely essential particularly if you are taking any homeopathic or herbal remedies. Most doses of herbal medicines are too low to cause interactions – they are more like eating vegetables than taking drugs. However, there are examples of potentially dangerous interactions between herbal medicines and prescription drugs. For instance, St John's Wort may interfere with the efficacy of the Pill and doctors have been advised that women taking oral contraceptives should avoid this popular herbal remedy.

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This website is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. The BBC and the Open University are not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of the OpenLearn website. The BBC and the Open University are not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed, nor do they endorse any commercial product or service mentioned or advised on any of the sites. Always consult your own GP if you're in any way concerned about your health.

This page was updated October 2008 to reflect the new regulatory body




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