For years conventional, science based, medicine has been the standard practiced in the West and many parts of the world. Many United States physicians have overlooked and even disregarded the use of these medicines to treat people since they have not been scientifically researched. Some people even claim that pharmaceutical companies want to stave off the popularity of these treatments to keep a monopoly on the drug industry. Politics aside, many people are sick and tired of being sick and tired and either want to get to the root of their illness as opposed to treating the disease as well as focus more on disease prevention. More and more people are taking charge of their health and taking it upon themselves to explore and pursue more natural approaches to medicine.
Treatments such as acupuncture and homeopathy are becoming more and more common as people seek a more balanced approach to caring for their bodies. Health food stores are receiving an abundance of customers. Supermarkets are creating whole sections specifically for herbs and supplements. Naturopathic doctor’s offices are now filled to capacity with people seeking a more holistic approach to health. More and more physicians with both allopathic and alternative medical backgrounds are springing up to provide integrative medicine, the combination of conventional Western medicine with alternative treatments.
Since alternative medicine and herbal remedies are more natural means to heal our bodies, it is easier to think of all these treatments as safe. After all, herbs are plant-based substances and treatments such as acupuncture or homeopathy are not very invasive. Even vitamin pills and supplements are seemingly harmless. It’s hard not to think of these treatments and practices as safe. It might be easier to just avoid researching safety issues of these modalities altogether but that could be a mistake that could cost you your health or even your life.
Though alternative and herbal remedies tend to be a more gentle option, some of these treatments have side effects that could cripple your health. Many herbs are potent and should be taken with caution. Supplements containing Ephedra also known as Ma Huang, a Chinese herb that was commonly added to supplements in the United States for weight loss was pulled off the shelves by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) years ago because of risk of heart disease and even death. Senna leaf, commonly used for constipation, can cause miscarriages in women and liver damage. Licorice root, which has the potential to thwart off hepatitis C, may cause high blood pressure when taken in large amounts. According to the National Institutes of Health, St. John’s Wort, an herb commonly used for depression has the potential to interact with other medications, such as birth control pills and seizure-control drugs decreasing their effectiveness. It is important for your healthcare practitioner to know all the different herbs and medications you are taking because of possible interactions. Even vitamin supplements, such as the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K should be mentioned to your healthcare provider as they can build up to toxic levels in your body if not taken correctly.
Homeopathic pellets, used in homeopathy treatments are rather safe, even for children but should still be used under the care of a physician who can calculate the effective dosages of this treatment. The FDA has regulated sterilization methods of acupuncture needles and a licensed professional should always be consulted to perform treatments to avoid risk of infection.
Many of these herbs and therapies have been used for years in different countries but without proper research as to the effectiveness and risks of these treatments we can end up with scenarios like supplements containing Ma Huang hitting our store shelves. Though most herbs and alternative therapies are understood to be safe, more clinical trials monitoring the effects of these treatments on animal and humans are needed to determine the true effects of these substances.
The recent explosion in use of alternative methods has prompted the opening of the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to create a scientific base for alternative health methods and treatments. There clinical trials are being carried out to determine the effectiveness and safety of alternative treatments. The United Kingdom has inquired as to the effectiveness of these therapies with organizations like the Foundation for Research into Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Until a large, science based body of research into the safety of alternative health methods is developed, consumers have to take their safety into their own hands with a thorough investigation of sources including the Internet, books, and talking with a well informed healthcare practitioner. This can help stave off some of the pitfalls and risks of alternative medicine. Physicians who specialize are trained, experienced and licensed in both allopathic and naturopathic medicine can be some of the best resources to safely guide you along through your alternative medical experience.