What is the evidence of CAM's effectiveness?

Skeptics often point out that there is little or no hard science behind CAM treatments. While many of these treatments have been used for thousands of years in pursuit of health and well-being, it is true that rigorous research within the field has been historically lacking. While scientific evidence exists regarding some CAM therapies, there are key questions regarding safety and efficacy that are yet to be answered through well-designed scientific studies. As such, it is important that individuals make informed choices about the therapies they choose.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) in the US is one organization that has sponsored research in order to build an evidence base about CAM therapies. Some of this research has revealed:

  • Chiropractic care for lower back pain is at least as effective as conventional medical care for up to 18 months
  • Acupuncture significantly reduced pain associated with osteoarthritis of the knee when used as a complement to conventional therapy. Other studies and reviews demonstrated that it also provides relief for vomiting and nausea from chemotherapy, shows possible effect for tension headaches, and that it can provide relief for those suffering from low-back pain
  • The dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin (alone or in combination) for osteoarthritis of the knee had outcomes similar to those experienced by people who took the drug celecoxib or placebo
  • People with fibromyalgia may benefit from practicing tai chi. Study participants who practiced tai chi demonstrated greater improvement in sleep quality, mood, and quality of life and showed a significant decrease in the impact of their symptoms

Through continuing rigorous research of CAM, health care professionals will finally have the scientific evidence they need to support the integration of a variety of CAM therapies into conventional patient care.