'Alternative and complementary medicine' is a general classification that refers to treatment methods which don't form part of conventional Western medicine. It covers practices like homeopathy, acupuncture, acupressure, herbal remedies, alternative diets/dietary supplementation, Reiki, yoga and meditation, chiropractic practice and Chinese remedies among others.
In recent years, most of these therapies have become quite common, and they have been used for treatment of various chronic conditions in both children and adults. However, information is most important, particularly before embracing any form of treatment for yourself or loved one. This article highlights three points everyone must understand before using alternative/complementary medicine.
1. Many are useful treatment options
There are many gaps in Western medicine, as research into many diseases is still on-going. Some alternative therapies can be traced back thousands of years, like acupuncture and other traditional Chinese medicine therapies. Most alternative therapies have been proven helpful: acupuncture for chronic pain, probiotics for diarrhoea, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in fish oil for foetal brain development and attention disorders etc. As our understanding of medicine expands, many Western medicine practitioners recommend alternative medicine to complement their treatment regimens.
2. They are poorly regulated
Before a new drug reaches the market, it takes at least 10-12 years in extensive testing and development. In this time, short and medium-term side effects are observed in different clinical trials and safety is proven before they are allowed in drug stores. This is unlike alternative treatment products, which are classified as food and don't go through the same levels of testing or regulation.
Therefore, there's often no way to know that the herbal remedy or supplement you buy doesn't have harmful components, or that it will help you the way the manufacturer claims. This also applies to the practising staff. Conventional medical doctors and practitioners at medical centres undergo long-established, accredited training programs and must regularly take courses to stay updated in their practice fields. Conversely, while some alternative therapists have accreditation programs, most do not, and quality of care cannot be completely assured because of this.
3. You must do your research
Because of the above-mentioned factors, it's important to talk to your doctor and do extensive research before trying an alternative therapy, particularly one which requires ingestion of certain products/remedies (unlike yoga, for instance). Let your doctor know why you're interested in an alternative therapy, and allow him/her some time to research its efficacy in your specific condition.
Talk to your doctor about any alternative medicine or therapies you're using, as some drugs usually have adverse interactions in the body when used together with other ingredients. This includes any dietary supplements you're on. For instance, a common herb for depression, St. John's Wort, can interfere with action of prescription medicines.
Finally, remember that just like for Western medicine, not every alternative/complementary medicine is suitable for everyone. Special caution should be applied if you are pregnant, lactating, have impaired organ function, very young or very old.