Manipulation and body-based practices

These methods use human touch to move or manipulate a specific part of your body. They include chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation and massage.

Energy medicine

Some complementary and alternative medicine practitioners believe an invisible energy force flows through your body, and when this energy flow is blocked or unbalanced you can become sick. Different traditions call this energy by different names, such as chi, prana and life force. The goal of these therapies is to unblock or re-balance your energy force. Energy therapies include qi gong, therapeutic touch, reiki and magnet therapy.

Why are some doctors hesitant about complementary and alternative medicine?

Many conventional doctors practicing today didn't receive training in CAM therapies, so they may not feel comfortable making recommendations or addressing questions in this area. However, as the evidence for certain therapies increases, doctors are increasingly open to complementary and alternative medicine. At the same time, doctors also have good reason to be cautious when it comes to complementary and alternative medicine. Conventional medicine values therapies that have been demonstrated through research and testing to be safe and effective. While scientific evidence exists for some CAM therapies, for many there are key questions that are yet to be answered.

In addition, some practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine make exaggerated claims about curing diseases, and some ask you to forgo treatment from your conventional doctor. For these reasons, many doctors are conservative about recommending CAM therapies.

Why is there so little evidence about complementary and alternative medicine?

One reason for the lack of research in complementary and alternative treatments is that large, carefully controlled medical studies are costly. Trials for conventional therapies are often funded by big companies that develop and sell drugs. Fewer resources are available to support trials of complementary and alternative medicine. That's why NCCAM was established — to foster research into complementary and alternative medicine and make the findings available to the public.

Talk to your doctor about risks and benefits of complementary and alternative medicine

Work with your conventional medical doctor to help you make informed decisions regarding complementary and alternative treatments. Even if your doctor can't recommend a specific practitioner, he or she can help you understand possible risks and benefits before you try a treatment. It's especially important to involve your doctor if you're pregnant, have medical problems or take prescription medicine. And don't stop or change your conventional treatment — such as the dose of your prescription medications — without talking to your doctor first. Finally, be sure to keep your doctor updated on any complementary and alternative therapies you're using, including herbal and dietary supplements.

Oct. 20, 2011 See more In-depth