Health Services Research & Development

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April Feature: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research

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According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), conducted by the National Institutes of Health, approximately 38 1 percent of adults in the U.S. have tried some form of complementary or alternative medicine (CAM). As defined by the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), "CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care systems practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine"2.

There are many different types of CAM, but the NCCAM's 3 definition encompasses three main categories: mind-body awareness such as meditation; natural products such as herbs; and treatments like massage therapy where the body is physically manipulated. Within VA, some 90 percent of the facilities participating in a 2011 survey 4 reported directly providing some type of CAM-based therapy; and for those facilities that did not directly provide services, referrals to licensed CAM practitioners were available.

From meditation therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to yoga for improving physical fitness in older Veterans, investigators with VA's Health Services Research and Development Service (VA HSR&D) support the appropriate use of CAM-based treatment approaches by conducting studies that contribute to the evidence base for their use. Some of these investigations include:

  • A recent pilot study that examined end-of-life care and the spiritual needs and experiences of Veterans.
  • A recently published study that looked at a meditation-based intervention (mantram repetition) for reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • A study in which older Veterans with stroke were taught yoga as a means of improving blood pressure control.
  • A study currently underway about how life review, mindfulness, and patient outlook can be used to improve end-of-life care.

1 http://nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam
2 ibid
3ibid
4 http://www.research.va.gov/news/research_highlights/ptsd-cam-051711.cfm