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Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Information for students researching CAM topics

Natural Products

Tea leaves


According to the NCCIH, biologically based CAM practices include the use of herbal medicines (also known as botanicals), vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, whole diets, functional foods, and other "natural products." Many are sold over the counter as dietary supplements. Some uses of dietary supplements—e.g., taking a multivitamin to meet minimum daily nutritional requirements are not thought of as CAM.

CAM "natural products" also include probiotics—live microorganisms (usually bacteria) that are similar to microorganisms normally found in the human digestive tract and that may have beneficial effects. Probiotics are available in foods (e.g., yogurts) or as dietary supplements.

Historical note: Herbal or botanical medicines reflect some of the first attempts to improve the human condition. The personal effects of the mummified prehistoric "ice man" found in the Italian Alps included medicinal herbs. By the Middle Ages, thousands of botanical products had been inventoried for their medicinal effects.

Current use: Interest in and use of CAM natural products have grown considerably in the past few decades. The 2007 NHIS found that 17.7 percent of American adults had used a nonvitamin/nonmineral natural product. These products were the most popular form of CAM among both adults and children. The most commonly used product among adults was fish oil/omega 3s. Popular products for children included echinacea and fish oil/omega 3s.

Tea Leaves (CC BY 2.0) by Rebecca Siegel

Web Resourses




Dietary Supplement Label Database - This National Library of Medicine database contains information on the ingredients of over 7,000 products of dietary supplements.


FDA Consumer Updates for Dietary Supplements - Timely and easy-to-read articles covering all FDA activities and regulated products.


Office of Dietary Supplements - This National Institute of Health office promotes the scientific study of the benefits of dietary supplements in maintaining health and preventing chronic disease.


Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: About Herbs - Provides evidence-based information about herbs, botanicals, supplements, and more.

NCCIH Natural Products Research

Films on Demand: A Different Way to Heal - Dietary Supplements

Use your MEID and password to access this video off-campus.