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Tips for Choosing a Complementary Healthcare Approach

choose complimentary and alternative healthcare carefullyMillions of Americans use complementary health approaches. Like any decision concerning your health, decisions about whether to use complementary approaches are important. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has developed this fact sheet to assist you in your decision-making about complementary health products and practices.


Take Charge of Your Health

Be an informed consumer. Find out and consider what scientific studies have been done on the safety and effectiveness of any health approach that is recommended to or interests you.Discuss the information and your interests with your health care providers before making a decision.

Choose a complementary health practitioner, such as an acupuncturist, as carefully as you would choose a conventional health care provider.

Before using any dietary supplement or herbal product, make sure you find out about potential side effects or interactions with medications you may be taking.

Only use treatments for your condition that have been proven safe. Do not use a product or practice that has not been proven to be effective to postpone seeing your health care provider for your condition.Tell all your health care providers—complementary and conventional—about all the health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

What do “complementary,” alternative,” and “integrative” mean?

“Complementary and alternative medicine,” “complementary medicine,” “alternative medicine,” “integrative medicine” — you may have seen these terms on the Internet and in marketing, but what do they really mean? While the terms are often used to mean the array of health care approaches with a history of use or origins outside of mainstream medicine, they are actually hard to define and may mean different things to different people.

The terms "complementary" and "integrative" refer to the use of non-mainstream approaches together with conventional medical approaches.

Alternative health approaches refer to the use of non-mainstream products or practices in place of conventional medicine. NCCIH advises against using any product or practice that has not been proven safe and effective as a substitute for conventional medical treatment or as a reason to postpone seeing your health care provider about any health problem. In some instances, stopping—or not starting—conventional treatment can have serious consequences. Before making a decision not to use a proven conventional treatment, talk to your health care providers.

How can I get reliable information about a complementary health approach?

It's important to learn what scientific studies have discovered about the complementary health approach you're considering. Evidence from research studies is stronger and more reliable than something you've seen in an advertisement or on a Web site, or something someone told you about that worked for them. (For tips on how to evaluate Web site information, see the NCCIH fact sheet Finding and Evaluating Online Resources on Complementary Health Approaches.)

Understanding a product's or practice's potential benefits, risks, and scientific evidence is critical to your health and safety. Scientific research on many complementary health approaches is relatively new, so this kind of information may not be available for each one. However, many studies are under way, including those that NCCIH supports, and knowledge and understanding of complementary approaches are increasing all the time. Here are some ways to find reliable information:

  • Talk with your health care providers. Tell them about the complementary health approach you're considering and ask any questions you may have about safety, effectiveness, or interactions with medications (prescription or nonprescription) or dietary supplements.
  • Visit the NCCIH Web site ( The “Health Information” page has an A-Z list of complementary health products and practices, which describes what the science says about them, and links to other objective sources of online information. The Web site also has contact information for the NCCIH Clearinghouse, where information specialists are available to assist you in searching the scientific literature and to suggest useful NCCIH publications. You can also find information from NCCIH on Facebook ( is external)), Twitter ( is external)), YouTube ( is external)), and Pinterest ( is external)).
  • Visit your local library or a medical library. Ask the reference librarian to help you find scientific journals and trustworthy books with information on the product or practice that interests you.

Are complementary health approaches safe?

As with any medical product or treatment, there can be risks with complementary approaches. These risks depend on the specific product or practice. Each needs to be considered on its own. However, if you're considering a specific product or practice, the following general suggestions can help you think about safety and minimize risks.

  • Be aware that individuals respond differently to health products and practices, whether conventional or complementary. How you might respond to one depends on many things, including your state of health, how you use it, or your belief in it.
  • Keep in mind that “natural” does not necessarily mean “safe.” (Think of mushrooms that grow in the wild: some are safe to eat, while others are not.)Learn about factors that affect safety. For a practice that is administered by a practitioner, such as chiropractic, these factors include the training, skill, and experience of the practitioner. For a product such as a dietary supplement, the specific ingredients and the quality of the manufacturing process are important factors.
  • If you decide to use a practice provided by a complementary health practitioner, choose the practitioner as carefully as you would your primary health care provider. (To learn more, see NCCIH's 6 Things To Know When Selecting a Complementary Health Practitioner.)
  • If you decide to use a dietary supplement, such as an herbal product, be aware that some products may interact in harmful ways with medications (prescription or over-the-counter) or other dietary supplements, and some may have side effects on their own. (To learn more, see the NCCIH fact sheet Using Dietary Supplements Wisely.)

Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.



The Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ created Sacred Heart Villa (formerly St. Michael Convent) in 2003 with the vision of providing a personal care home for the Sisters and other seniors of southeastern Pennsylvania. The Sisters renovated St. Michael in order to create 35 personal care residential rooms. Sacred Heart Villa officially opened her doors to her first new residents in May 2004, with space for 57 Sisters and 40 other senior residents.  The facility has two residential buildings, a remodeled dining room, a new fireside lounge, library, café and beauty shop. The chapel remains in the middle of the facility for it truly is the Heart of the community. Each new residential room provides an individual with privacy, safety and security in an environment of beauty and grace. Mass is celebrated each day, and is open to the public.

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