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Alternative Medicine

How Effective Are Alternative Medicine Remedies?

Use of Alternative Medicine Remedies and Other Complementary Therapies (source U.S. Govt. - Public Domain)
Use of Alternative Medicine Remedies and Other Complementary Therapies (source U.S. Govt. - Public Domain) Click to see larger image.

People looking for alternative medicine remedies have a few things in common:

  • They are unhappy with side effects of prescription drugs.
  • They prefer natural approaches that work with their body, not against it.
  • They tend to take better care of themselves in general. They eat better, exercise and practice effective forms of stress management.

That means when trying to grasp how effective these remedies are, you need to account for lifestyle differences. But that isn’t the only thing. You also should understand the difference between a whole body view and a science-based view.

Why is this important? After all, aren’t double-blind studies the ‘gold standard’ for determining what works?

In many fields, double-blind studies are the perfect approach. This is especially true with material science. How a piece of metal performs can be tested. The properties of a new alloy or manufacturing process can be tested. The qualities of soil can be tested.

But when you start getting into life sciences, things get more complex. For example, there are 50,000 chemical processes in the body. Add to that toxic exposure, the effects of food, stress and emotion and individual differences. That is far more complex than reductionist science can deal with.

How do they deal with it? By statistics. That means any drug is only statistically effective. In other words, no guarantee it will work for you. It might or it might not.

With that in mind, here is the…

Mayo Clinic’s Take on Alternative Medicine Remedies

Look for solid scientific studies.
When researching CAM treatments, do like doctors do. Look for high-quality clinical studies. These large, controlled and randomized trials are published in peer-reviewed journals — journals that only publish articles reviewed by independent experts. The results of these studies are more likely to be solid.

Be cautious about studies in animals, laboratory studies or studies that include only a small number of people. Their results may or may not hold up when tested in larger clinical trials. Finally, remember that sound health advice is generally based on a body of research, not a single study.

Although scientific studies are the best way to evaluate whether a treatment is safe and effective, it isn’t always possible to find good studies about alternative medicine practices. Keep in mind that a lack of evidence doesn’t necessarily mean a treatment doesn’t work — but it does mean it hasn’t been proved. Don’t hesitate to talk with your doctor if you have questions.

Weed out misinformation.
The Internet is full of information about alternative medicine treatments, but not all of it is accurate. To weed out the good information from the bad, use the three D’s:

  • Dates. Check the creation or update date for each article. If you don’t see a date, don’t assume the article is recent. Older material may be outdated and not include recent findings, such as newly discovered side effects or advances in the field.
  • Documentation. Check sources. Are qualified health professionals creating and reviewing the information? Is advertising clearly identified? Look for the logo from the Health on the Net (HON) Foundation, which means that the site follows HON’s principles for reliability and credibility of information.
  • Double-check. Gather as much information as you can. Visit several health sites and compare the information they offer. If you can’t find supporting evidence to back up the claims of a CAM product, be skeptical. And before you follow any advice you read on the Internet, check with your conventional doctor for guidance.

They also remind people that natural doesn’t necessarily mean safe. Of course they don’t mention that the same is doubly true for prescriptions. And, of course they focus on telling your doctor what you are taking, etc. You can read the entire article here.

Honestly, some of this is good advice. But they miss the point of the reason people seek alternatives in the first place. And, predictably, they spend a good part of the article warning you against scams in alternative remedies. You can’t deny the fact. But it does ignore that many of the drugs sold to patients don’t work for them or have horrific side effects. That is another type of scam, wouldn’t you say?

Ultimately it comes down to individual differences. Which of the alternative medicine remedies work best for someone will vary for each person. So do your research. And consider consulting with someone who knows about these things. They can usually save you a lot of trial and error.

All the best to you for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger

Dr. Bruce

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