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NCCAM Discusses New Research on Pediatrics, Women's Health and Arthritis

TUCSON, Ariz.--On Mar. 6, a Town Meeting on Complementary and Alternative Medicine took place here where directors from various health disciplines discussed the latest studies for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) on certain conditions. The meeting was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Complementary Medicine (NCCAM) and the University of Arizona Children's Research Center, and the panel consisted of botanists, various Center directors, and the head of NCCAM.

In a presentation that stressed that CAM should be used to supplement traditional medicine, moderator Andrew Weil, M.D., stated that the assembled panel "represents a major influence in research funds." For 2001, NCCAM received $89 million, which has already been divided amongst the 11 NIH Centers.

Stephen Straus, M.D., director of NCCAM, stated that some CAM practices may be beneficial for certain conditions, while others may not. "American healthcare is collapsing around our ears," he stated, adding that this is only the tip of the iceberg. Once baby boomers get a little older, the traditional healthcare system will be under unprecedented strain. In the meantime, CAM is a "consumer-driven movement" that will continue to expand as traditional medicine begins to fail more and more people. He added that one study underway is looking at the benefits of St. John's wort for depression is planned to be released this spring from Duke University.

Some of the other research featured included:

Pediatric Medicine

The first speaker, Fayez Ghishan, M.D., director of the Steele Memorial Children's Research Center--which received the first grant from NIH to study pediatric CAM--stated that some recent studies are looking at how echinacea may help treat ear infections; how relaxation and guided imagery along with non-caffeinated chamomile tea may ease stress-related stomach pain and vomiting; and how acupuncture may benefit spastic cerebral palsy. "We have picked conditions where traditional medicine has not been effective," said Ghishan. He expressed the hope that these studies will be published by October.

Women's Health

Fredi Kronenberg, Ph.D., an associate professor at Columbia University and is a director for the NIH Center for aging and women's health, stated that most women are looking into alternative therapies for non-invasive reasons, fewer side effects and substitutes for estrogen therapy for conditions that include menopause, infertility and lactation. As a director, she stated that the jury is still out on the benefits of soy and its many forms (soy milk, food, extracts) for menopausal women.

Arthritis

Brian Berman, M.D., the director of the University of Maryland-based NIH Center, focused on the effects of CAM on arthritis, and said, "We have a lot more questions than we have answers." At the moment, studies are being conducted on the effects of acupuncture and arthritis, as well as another study on green tea and rheumatoid arthritis.

Botanicals

Barbara Timmermann, Ph.D., is a regents professor in the department of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Arizona and heads one of the four NIH-sponsored botanical centers in the nation. Currently, she is looking at three botanicals in depth: ginger and the chemical properties associated with dried and fresh specimen; turmeric and its anti-inflammatory properties; and boswellia and its effect on asthma.

It is Strauss' goal that one day CAM will cease being considered non-traditional medicine but rather an "ordinary, daily part of life." He added that manufacturers should take extra care in putting out quality products that are efficacious and safe. "The average American buys dietary supplements like a bottle of wine--if it has a nice label, they'll buy it," he said.

To find out the latest news at NCCAM, visit nccam.nih.gov.

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