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Alternative medicine:

Evaluate claims of treatment success

Educating yourself about alternative medicine helps you determine whether its
treatments are worth exploring. Follow these suggestions to help you assess the
claims.

A l te r n a ti v e m e d i c i n e tr e a tm e n ts r a n g i n g fr o m h e r b a l r e m e d i e s t o a c u p u n c tu r e h a v e b e c o m e
more popular as people seek greater control of their own health. But while they do give you
more options, these treatments aren't always proven safe or effective. W hen considering any
alternative treatments, be a savvy consumer. Be open-minded yet skeptical of medical claims.
Many treatments, both conventional and unconventional, have risks and side effects.

A l te r n a ti v e m e d i c i n e — p r a c ti c e s th a t a r e n ' t ty p i c a l l y
u s e d i n c o n v e n ti o n a l m e d i c i n e — i s g e n e r a l l y th o u g h t
of as being used instead of conventional methods.
When alternative practices are used in addition to
th e c o n v e n ti o n a l t h e r a p i e s , t h e y a r e c a l l e d
c o m p l e m e n ta r y m e d i c i n e . T o g e th e r , th e s e tr e a tm e n ts
a r e s o m e ti m e s r e fe r r e d to a s c o m p l e m e n t a r y a n d
alternative medicine (CAM).

With any alternative treatment you consider, find out if


the potential benefits outweigh the risks. It's a good
idea to talk to your doctor and do research on your
o w n b e f o r e tr y i n g a n y tr e a tm e n t. B e e s p e c i a l l y a w a r e
o f p o s s i b l e s i d e e ff e c ts o f h e r b s a n d d i e t a r y
supplements, which can cause problems with
medications — and aren't as well tested or regulated
as are conventional treatments.
Also find out exactly what the treatment will cost. Assess the credentials of anyone who
advocates alternative medicine. Gather information from a variety of sources and evaluate the
i n fo r m a ti o n c a r e fu l l y .

Avoiding Internet misinformation: Use the Three D's

T h e In te r n e t o ffe r s a n i d e a l w a y to d i s c o v e r th e l a te s t
in alternative medicine treatments. W eb sites can be
updated at any time to keep up with new products,
th e r a p i e s a n d a d v a n c e s i n th e fi e l d . B u t b e w a r e — th e
In te r n e t i s a l s o o n e o f th e g r e a te s t s o u r c e s o f
misinformation. Carefully investigate each alternative
medicine site you visit. Considering these three
features can help you weed out the good products
fr o m th e b a d :

Dates. Search for the most recent information you can


fi n d . R e p u ta b l e W e b s i te s i n c l u d e a d a t e f o r e a c h
a r ti c l e th e y p o s t. O l d e r m a te r i a l m a y n o t i n c l u d e r e c e n t
findings, such as newly discovered side effects or
advances in the field.

D o c u m e n t a t io n . C h e c k fo r t h e s o u r c e o f i n fo r m a ti o n .

• W e b s i te s c r e a te d b y m a j o r m e d i c a l
centers, universities and government agencies are the most credible.
• S o m e W e b s i te s p o s t a l o g o fr o m t h e H e a l th o n th e N e t ( H O N ) F o u n d a ti o n . S i te s
that display this logo have agreed to abide by the HON Code of Conduct, which
r e g u l a t e s r e l i a b i l i t y a n d c r e d i b i l i t y o f i n fo r m a ti o n .
• N o ti c e w h e th e r a r ti c l e s r e fe r t o s o l i d s c i e n ti fi c s tu d i e s .
• L o o k fo r a b o a r d o f q u a l i fi e d p r o fe s s i o n a l s w h o r e v i e w i n fo r m a t i o n b e fo r e i t' s
publis h ed.
• Be wary of commercial sites or personal testimonials that push a single point of
view or sell miracle cures.
• Stay away from sites that don't clearly distinguish between scientific evidence and
advertisements.

Double-checking. Visit several health sites and compare the information they offer. And
before you follow any medical advice, ask your doctor for guidance. If you search all over a
Web site for supporting evidence or you can't find evidence to back up the manufacturer's
claims, be wary of the information.

Beware of scams and health fraud


Scammers have perfected ways to convince you that their alternative medicine products are
the best. These opportunists often target people who are overweight or who have medical
c o n d i ti o n s fo r w h i c h t h e r e i s n o c u r e , s u c h a s m u l ti p l e s c l e r o s i s , d i a b e t e s , A l z h e i m e r ' s d i s e a s e ,
c a n c e r , H IV /A I D S a n d a r th r i ti s . R e m e m b e r — i f i t s o u n d s to o g o o d to b e tr u e , i t p r o b a b l y i s .
Certain words and phrases can be warning signs of potentially fraudulent alternative medicine
p r o d u c t s . T h e F o o d a n d D r u g A d m i n i s tr a t i o n ( F D A ) r e c o m m e n d s th a t y o u w a tc h o u t fo r th e
following claims or practices:

• Red flag words. The advertisements or promotional materials usually include


words such as "satisfaction guaranteed," "miracle cure" or "new discovery." If the
product were in fact a cure, it would be widely reported in the media and your
d o c to r w o u l d r e c o m m e n d i t.
• Pseudomedical jargon. Though terms such as "purify," "detoxify" and "energize"
may sound impressive and may even have an element of truth, they're generally
used to cover up a lack of scientific proof. Watch out for these words.
• Cure-alls. The manufacturer claims that the product can treat a wide range of
symptoms, or cure or prevent a number of diseases. No single product can do all
th i s .
• Anecdotal evidence. Testimonials are no substitute for solid scientific
d o c u m e n ta ti o n . If t h e p r o d u c t i s s c i e n ti fi c a l l y s o u n d , i t' s a c t u a l l y to th e
manufacturer's advantage — and ultimately yours — to promote the scientific
evidence.
• F a ls e a c c u s a t io n s . T h e m a n u fa c t u r e r o f th e p r o d u c t a c c u s e s th e g o v e r n m e n t o r
a m e d i c a l p r o f e s s i o n o f s u p p r e s s i n g i m p o r ta n t i n f o r m a ti o n a b o u t th e i r p r o d u c t' s
benefits. Neither the government nor any medical profession has any reason to
withhold information that could help people.
Look for solid scientific studies

If y o u r e a d a b o u t s tu d i e s i n j o u r n a l a r ti c l e s ,
a s s e s s t h e q u a l i t y o f th e r e s e a r c h . L o o k fo r
words such as "double-blind," "controlled"
and "randomized." Doctors consider these
types of studies to contain the most valuable
i n fo r m a ti o n . H e r e a r e s o m e c o m m o n te r m s
you'll encounter in research articles:

• Clinical studies. These involve


s tu d i e s o n h u m a n b e i n g s - n o t
anim als . T hey gen er all y c om e
a fte r s tu d i e s t h a t d e m o n s tr a t e
the safety and effectiveness of
th e tr e a tm e n t i n a n i m a l s a n d i n
the lab. Studies done solely in test tubes and petri dishes can't prove benefit to
hum ans .
• Randomized, controlled trials. Participants in these trials usually are divided
i n to g r o u p s . O n e g r o u p r e c e i v e s th e tr e a t m e n t u n d e r i n v e s ti g a ti o n . A n o th e r g r o u p
may be a control group — participants receive standard treatment, no treatment
or an inactive substance called a placebo. Participants are assigned to these
g r o u p s o n a r a n d o m b a s i s . T h i s h e l p s e n s u r e th a t th e g r o u p s w i l l b e s i m i l a r .
• D o u b le - b l in d s t u d ie s . In th e s e s t u d i e s , n e i th e r th e r e s e a r c h e r s n o r th e h u m a n
subjects know who will receive the active treatment and who will receive the
plac eb o.

Look for peer-reviewed journals — those that only publish articles reviewed by an independent
panel of medical experts. Also look for replicated studies, ones that have been repeated by
different investigators with generally the same results.
One or two small studies, whether the results are positive or negative, usually aren't enough to
make a definite decision about whether to use or skip a specific treatment. Unfortunately, there
a r e a l i m i te d n u m b e r o f q u a l i t y s tu d i e s o n m a n y a l t e r n a ti v e m e d i c i n e tr e a tm e n ts . K e e p i n m i n d
that while solid research studies are the best way to evaluate whether a treatment is safe and
effective, a lack of solid evidence doesn't always mean these treatments don't work — but it
does m ean t he y h a v en' t been pr o v ed.

Research studies on alternative medicine are being conducted every year. As research
continues, many of the answers about whether these treatments are safe or effective will
become clearer. Much of the funding for these studies comes from the National Institutes of
Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which is also a good
resource to examine when investigating alternative medicine treatments.

Evaluate providers

When selecting an alternative treatment provider, evaluate your options. Simply choosing a
name from a telephone directory is risky if you have no other information about the provider.
You might try checking with:
• Medical centers. At many medical centers, CAM practioners are working
collaboratively with conventional physicians.
• State regulators. Check your state government listings for agencies that regulate
and license health care providers. These agencies may list practitioners in your
a r e a a n d o ff e r a w a y to c h e c k c r e d e n ti a l s .
• N a t io n a l a s s o c ia t io n s . N a ti o n a l a s s o c i a t i o n s a n d th e i r l o c a l a ffi l i a te s c a n u s u a l l y
provide you with the names of certified practitioners in your area. To find the
addresses and phone numbers of these associations, visit your local library or
u s e th e In te r n e t to fi n d a s s o c i a ti o n W e b s i te s . B u t b e c a r e fu l — o ffi c i a l - s o u n d i n g
organizations aren't always reputable. Talk with your doctor or another trusted
health care professional for advice.
• Friends and family. If you know someone who's received the treatment you're
considering, he or she can offer advice. Ask about his or her experiences with
specific providers. Call the provider to request an interview.

Many treatments, both conventional and unconventional,


have risks and side effects. W ith any treatment you
consider, find out if the potential benefits outweigh the
risks. Also find out exactly what the treatment will cost.

Dietary supplements: 'Natural' doesn't always


m ean saf e

Herbal remedies, vitamins and minerals, considered


dietary supplements by the FDA, don't have the same
rigorous testing and labeling process as over-the-counter
and prescription medications. Yet, some of these
substances, including products labeled as "natural," have
drug-like effects that can be dangerous. Even some
vitamins and minerals can cause problems when taken in
e x c e s s i v e a m o u n ts . W h i l e s o m e c h a n g e s to fe d e r a l
labeling guidelines have helped protect consumers by requiring manufacturers to evaluate the
identity, purity, strength, and composition of dietary supplements, some companies have until
2010 to meet the new labeling requirements. And even stricter guidelines aren't a guarantee
these products are entirely safe or effective. Before taking a dietary supplement, carefully
i n v e s ti g a te p o te n ti a l b e n e fi ts a n d s i d e e ff e c ts .

• Talk to your doctor before taking a dietary supplement. This is especially if


you are pregnant, nursing a baby, or if you have a chronic medical condition such
a s d i a b e te s o r h e a r t d i s e a s e .
• Avoid drug interactions. Prescription and over-the-counter medications can
interact with certain dietary supplements. For example, the anticoagulant
C o u m a d i n ( a p r e s c r i p ti o n m e d i c a ti o n ) , g i n k g o b i l o b a ( a n h e r b a l s u p p l e m e n t) a n d
V i ta m i n E c a n a l l th i n th e b l o o d . T a k i n g t h e s e p r o d u c ts to g e t h e r c a n i n c r e a s e
your risk of internal bleeding or other problems.
• Tell your doctor about any supplements you take before surgery. Some
s u p p l e m e n ts c a n c a u s e p r o b l e m s d u r i n g s u r g e r y s u c h a s c h a n g e s i n h e a r t r a te o r
b l o o d p r e s s u r e o r i n c r e a s e d b l e e d i n g . Y o u m a y n e e d t o s to p t a k i n g th e s e
s u p p l e m e n ts a t l e a s t tw o to t h r e e w e e k s b e fo r e y o u r p r o c e d u r e .
Don't forgo conventional treatment

Ideally the various forms of treatments


you select should work together with the
care of your conventional doctor. You
m a y fi n d th a t c e r ta i n a l te r n a ti v e
treatments help you maintain your
health and relieve some of your
s y m p to m s . B u t c o n ti n u e to r e l y o n
conventional medicine to diagnose a
pr oblem and t r eat dis eas es . D on' t
change your conventional treatment —
s uc h as y our dos e of pr es c r ib ed
medication — without talking to your
doctor first. For your safety, tell your
doctor about all alternative treatments
you use.

Compiled By: Dr.M.Kumaravel

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