Do We Need NCCAM?
I was just about to start writing this blog about yesterday's thought-provoking article regarding some legislators' calls to eliminate the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). But before I got going I remembered I wanted to do a bit of preliminary research in preparation for next Tuesday's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column about probiotics. When I Googled the term, the most useful Web site that turned up was from -- guess where? -- NCCAM.
In the face of this challenging economy, lawmakers are absolutely right to scrutinize every dollar the government spends. Their questions as to whether the NCCAM is earning its $122 million annual keep are perfectly legit.
On the other hand, as Americans' interest in and use of complementary and alternative treatments rise, it's good to have some agency sorting out pros and cons, benefits and risks, efficacies and false promises. Might those tasks be easily shifted elsewhere?
One reader commented that it's our universities' role to conduct the kind of research that's needed to validate or debunk alternative treatments. Of course, one of NCCAM's major functions is to review research grant applications from academic institutions and award funds to the most worthy projects.
If that funding were left entirely to the private sector, would there be conflicts of interest? If a supplement maker, for instance, is charged with determining whether its supplements cure colds or reduce cancer risks, can we trust those findings?
Here's another thought: Some alternative therapies have the potential to interfere with conventional treatments. Physicians and patients need to know whether a dietary supplement, for instance, is likely to interfere with the action of a prescription drug. If an agency such as NCCAM doesn't fund such research, who will? Probably not the pharmaceutical companies.
Still, despite my professional use of the NCCAM Web site, I'm on the fence. How about you? Do you think we taxpayers should keep funding the NCCAM? Or would that money be better spent elsewhere?
Note your opinion here, and please elaborate on your answer in the Comments section below.
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