Bethesda, MD—The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) recently developed its third strategic plan to further research about Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM). The goals will take five years to complete, and its main objectives include informing Americans about CAM and possibly integrating CAM into the healthcare system to further improve health in the United States.

NCCAM defines CAM as anything that is not a conventional method of medicine. For example, CAM may include acupuncture, meditation, breathing practices, tai chi, yoga, pilates, hypnosis, massage therapy or spinal manipulation.

In its 2011–2015 plan, NCCAM has mapped out five goals, the purpose of which is to increase the use of CAM among Americans. They are as follows:
1. To advance research on mind and body interventions using state-of-the-art technologies. Specific areas of emphasis will be better understanding the role of meditation.
2. To advance research on natural products and use sophisticated techniques for identifying the biological effects, mechanisms of action and safety profile of such products.
3. Increase understanding of the benefits of integrating CAM into healthcare.
4. Improve the capacity of the field to carry out rigorous research by increasing quality and quantity of CAM researchers and by collaborating with other research groups.
5. Develop and disseminate objective, evidence-based information on CAM.

NCCAM says there is a positive correlation between CAM research and CAM use in the United States. The past decade has seen a greater increase in research about alternative health remedies, and since 2002, the use of breathing practices, meditation, massage therapy and yoga have increased. Furthermore, when research began to spread the word that omega-3s had health benefits, sales of omega-3 supplements increased. Preceding a decline in the sales of Echinacea supplements, researchers announced that the herb did not have significant power to protect against the common cold.

Surveys have shown that the use of CAM is growing in popularity overall, says NCCAM. In the 12 months prior to a 2007 survey of CAM use, Americans spent $33.9 billion out-of-pocket CAM. That is 1.5% of total healthcare expenditures in the U.S., and 11.2% of total out-of-pocket expenditures.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine April 2011 (online 2/24/11)