Witchcraft, black magic, and alchemy brought to you by the NIH and Congress

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Nearly 20 years ago, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and former Representative Berkeley Bedell petitioned Congress to create the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM), which was granted an initial $2 million budget in 1992. Seven years later, the OAM was enveloped by the National Institutes of Health and renamed the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). But what exactly does this center, which has spent $1.6 billion since its inception, do?

Other than waste taxpayer money, not much, writes ACSH trustee Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children s Hospital of Philadelphia, in a recent Viewpoint article for the Journal of the American Medical Association. The NCCAM was originally established to investigate the potential health benefits of various supplements and vitamins, but have the negative results of such studies had any effective impact on the quality or regulation of these products? Apparently not, says Dr. Offit, who points out that most supplements provide absolutely no benefit, and, worse yet, some may even increase the risk of certain ailments, such as cancer and heart disease.

Why, then, hasn t the FDA intervened to more stringently regulate supplements and vitamins, as they do with other drugs and pharmaceuticals? Well, that s because this industry is largely exempt from agency oversight, thanks to the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which states that as long as substances are sold and marketed as dietary nutritional supplements, they get a free pass from the FDA. The legislation was crafted by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who represents a state that is one of the leaders of the supplement industry. Coincidence? We think not.

So what s been the result of DSHEA and the continued operation of the NCCAM? Few consumers are aware that many supplements have not delivered on their claims, says Dr. Offit.

But the consequences can be more serious than that, as ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross and George Lundberg, MedPage Today Editor-at-Large, pointed out in a March op-ed. Who knows how many other unexplained deaths and near-deaths can be attributed to the vast experiment foisted upon an unwary American populace by such drugs I mean, supplements ? they write.

As Dr. Offit suggests, it would be best if the NCCAM refrained from supporting further non-evidence-based studies that border on mysticism and instead shifted its resources to other NIH departments.

There is no such thing as 'alternative' medicine it's either evidence-based medicine, or it's faith, magic, or charlatanry," Dr. Ross and Lundberg reiterate.

NIH s affiliation with the NCCAM is insane, says ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom. Logically, this is the last place that this organization should be. There are 27 institutes that comprise the NIH. Clearly, that number should be 26.