We often blog about the dangers of prescription and over-the-counter drugs; citing regulatory concerns as well as skepticism of manufacturer-supplied testing data. Therefore it comes as no great surprise that many people have turned to alternative medicine. Unfortunately, what many people perceive as natural alternatives to big pharma may also put consumers at risk.
Most natural and herbal remedies are considered “supplements”
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) is a staunch advocate for stricter regulation of supplements. He warns, “Consumers should know that when they buy a dietary supplement, they are really on their own.” The FDA can only act after an incident occurs, which in some cases, is too late.
According to USA Today, Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, says he’s lost patients with serious cardiovascular disease because they opted to take alternative medicines instead of those he prescribed. The practice, Nissen says, is “a national catastrophe in the making.”
While not all supplements are dangerous, we caution consumers to be leery of outlandish claims. Talk to your doctor about any supplements you may be taking, since they may interact with other medicines.
Finding a middle ground
“Complementary” therapies are those used alongside conventional medicine. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has issued the following guidelines:
Complementary therapies shown to be safe and effective:
- Acupuncture relieved pain and chemotherapy-induced nausea
- Mindfulness meditation reduced stress and pain
- Tai chi improved balance in patients with Parkinson’s disease
- Clinical hypnosis reduced post-menopausal hot flashes
Complementary approaches proven not to be effective:
- St. John’s wort supplements did not relieve depression.
- Gingko biloba did not slow mental decline, improve memory or reduce blood pressure.
- Echinacea did not prevent or treat colds.
Complementary approaches proven not to be safe:
- Ephedra was found to be associated with heart attacks and death.
- Certain supplements that claim to help patients lose weight, build muscle and improve their sexual performance have been found to be contaminated and unsafe.
“Alternative therapies, supplements can cause side effects” by Liz Szabo, USA TODAY, June 18, 2013.
“Book raises alarms about alternative medicine” by Liz Szabo, USA TODAY, June 18, 2013.