Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) includes a variety of interventions—from exercise and dietary supplements to stress management strategies, biofeedback, and acupuncture. These therapies—which come from many different disciplines and traditions—are generally considered to be outside the realm of conventional medicine. When used in combination with conventional medicine, they are referred to as “complementary;” when used instead of conventional medicine, they are referred to as “alternative.” In the United States today, approximately 75% of people with MS use one form or another of CAM, generally in combination with their prescribed MS treatments. Are CAM Therapies Safe to Use?
Many people use CAM because they believe that anything sold over-the-counter at a pharmacy or health food store is healthy and harmless. However, unlike conventional medical treatments—which are thoroughly tested and carefully regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—most CAM therapies have undergone very little, if any, scientific study. So some may be completely safe while others may actually pose significant risks—for example, by producing serious side effects or interacting negatively with other medications a person is taking. Fortunately, a greater effort is now being made to find ways to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of various types of CAM. Why is Controlled Clinical Studies So Important?
Carefully-designed clinical trials are the best way to determine whether a treatment is safe and effective. Here are the reasons why: * Because the course of MS is variable, and each person’s symptoms tend to come and go in an unpredictable way, the only way to determine the effectiveness of a treatment is to test it on a large number of people. * Because most people—regardless of the disease they have—will have a positive response to any new treatment they receive (even if it’s an inactive substance or placebo), the effectiveness of a new treatment can only...
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