Be an Informed Consumer

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Decisions about your health care are important—including decisions about whether or not to use complementary health approaches. 

Complementary approaches can be classified by their primary therapeutic input (how the therapy is taken in or delivered), which may be:

  • Nutritional (e.g., special diets, dietary supplements, herbs, probiotics, and microbial-based therapies).
  • Psychological (e.g., meditation, hypnosis, music therapies, relaxation therapies).
  • Physical (e.g., acupuncture, massage, spinal manipulation).
  • Combinations such as psychological and physical (e.g., yoga, tai chi, dance therapies, some forms of art therapy) or psychological and nutritional (e.g., mindful eating).

Nutritional approaches include what the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) previously categorized as natural products, whereas psychological and/or physical approaches include what was referred to as mind and body practices.

Some complementary approaches may not neatly fit into any of the groups above—for example, the practices of traditional healers, Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, and functional medicine. 

When considering complementary health approaches, it’s important to take charge of your health by being an informed consumer. Find out and consider what scientific studies have been done on the safety and effectiveness of the product or practice that interests you. (For more information on specific complementary health approaches and what the science says about them, the “Health Information” page has an A–Z list of various complementary health products and practices.) Discuss the information with your health care provider before making a decision. 

When looking for a complementary health practitioner, consider asking your health care provider, a local hospital, or a professional organization. The MedlinePlus Directories page from the National Library of Medicine lists organizations for some professions and provides links to directories of libraries and various types of health professionals, services, and facilities, which might be helpful. (NCCIH does not make referrals to practitioners and does not provide complementary health care or treatments.) 

For additional tips on finding a complementary health practitioner, see “6 Things To Know When Selecting a Complementary Health Practitioner.

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.

Last Updated: February 2020