Are Alternative Medicines Effective?

A growing number of people have become interested in alternative medicine to treat illnesses. Alternative medicine as a practice has created a significant amount of controversy both inside and outside the traditional medical field. Alternative medicine refers to a treatment or substance that is unproven under the application or accepted scientific standards. The most common types of alternative medicine include herbs, supplements, therapies and activities that are outside traditional medical practice. Some of these raise questions about their safety and effectiveness.

Acupuncture, massage, meditation, herbal tea, and plant extracts are popular among devotees of alternative medicine, but many traditional doctors believe these treatments are ineffective or even dangerous. Alternative medicine has become increasingly popular as more people face the aches, pains, and illnesses that accompany aging. In some cases, individuals have not obtained a cure with traditional medical approaches and turn to other options to treat their illness. In still other cases, people feel very strongly that natural methods of treatment are better than traditional medicine, so they look for answers from alternative practitioners instead of the family doctor.

There are risks associated with alternative medicine. Some of the risks arise through the use of untested, ineffective, and even unsafe substances. The manufacturers of these substances sometimes exaggerate the claims of their effectiveness. They may misrepresent the science related to the material to convince consumers to buy the product, even if its use can endanger a person’s health.

Some herbal remedies are advertised as being able to improve memory, raise metabolism, or cure cancer and heart disease. In reality, the remedies may cause harm if taken at high doses. Another risk is that someone with a serious disease like cancer will not receive traditional and proven treatments, preferring to use alternative methods that may not be effective. In these cases, people are risking their lives. Sometimes, patients may be using alternative treatments, but not telling their doctors about them. This can lead to dangerous drug interactions. If a traditional doctor is unaware of the substance a patient is taking, medications that produce harmful interactions may be unknowingly prescribed.

Image Courtesy of SOMMAI / freedigitalphotos.net

Image Courtesy of SOMMAI / freedigitalphotos.net

It is possible to recognize potentially risky alternative treatment. If a treatment sounds too good to be true, it probably is. While this is a cliché, it is often very true in situations involving alternative medicines. Be careful of products labeled ‘miraculous’ or ‘ancient remedy.’ If you are thinking about treatments such as acupuncture or reflexology, check the qualifications of the practitioner before being treated. Ask about the training received, and research the treatment to determine if it has been scientifically tested and found to be effective.

It’s a good idea to ask your doctor about an alternative treatment you are considering. Trained medical professionals have the experience and education to help you make safe decisions about your health.

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