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The Dangers of Alternative Medicine

Updated on October 14, 2012
Alternative medicine has many benefits but there are some dangers with it too.
Alternative medicine has many benefits but there are some dangers with it too. | Source


Alternative medicine (also known as natural medicine) is an umbrella term for disciplines such as aromatherapy, acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine etc. Although alternative therapy has a lot to offer as I have learned from personal experience, there are some dangers with it as well.

I was prompted to write this hub by a comment a fellow hubber made on one of my other hubs in this series Feverfew: Herbal remedy for migraine about the dangers of the misuse of alternative medicine.

The reasons why there are indeed some dangers are as follows:

Dosage

Herbal medicine is a field of medicine in it’s own right but if the incorrect remedy or dosage is used for a particular ailment it will have negative (and possibly poisonous) consequences for the individual concerned. This is not an issue with a reputable herbal practitioner but this area is not regulated well and the person administering the remedy may not know what he is doing.

Lack of effect

Similar to the above, if the herbal remedy is not appropriate for the condition it will not have a positive effect on one’s symptoms. Another problem here is that the patient may use an alternative remedy first instead of consulting his doctor. By the time they visit the doctor, the symptoms may have become worse and consequently will be harder to treat.

Regulation

There are huge differences from one country to another in the regulation of alternative medicine. For example, in France some aromatherapy oils are regulated as prescription drugs. This is good for giving credibility to the aromatherapy practitioner as well as preventing incorrect use of these oils. In many countries, the regulations are much less strict which is not good for the public who are accessing the services of an alternative therapy practitioner because there are no standards of practice to be complied with.

Research

In conventional medicine, drugs are researched vigorously in the laboratory and this is followed by clinical trials before the drug is used for the general population. There are no such controls in herbal medicine. The value of herbal remedies is based on anecdotal evidence rather than objective clinical trials. This is not to say that they are not effective, just that they are not tested. In fact, it would be of benefit to the herbal practitioner if his remedies were tested as in many cases it would serve to prove the anecdotal evidence correct.

Contraindications

There are situations when certain herbal remedies are contra-indicated. For example, I decided to take Echinacea (a short-term remedy to boost immunity and fight infection) before major surgery. Fortunately, a well-informed health store employee informed me that it was contra-indicated with an anaesthetic so I was advised not to commence it until after the surgery.


On the other hand, I know of three cases where Echinacea and astragalus(a long-term remedy to boost immunity and fight infection) was effective when antibiotics had ceased to work in these three individuals with different ailments. See my other hub in this seriesHow to benefit from natural medicine for more on how conventional medicine and herbal medicine can work in tandem.

Perhaps it is worth pointing out that conventional medicine had first failed in these cases which is probably the reason a lot of people try herbal remedies in the first place. In some ways, this is the safer option although there are indeed lots of herbal remedies that can be used instead of conventional medicine in the first place.

The Placebo effect

This is something that conventional medicine and natural medicine have in common. It can quite simply be defined as mind over matter . For example, if one administers a pill with no drug in it to an individual, the person’s symptoms can be alleviated simply because he thinks and believes the pill is working. This is similar to but different from cases where people recover from serious illness in spite of the medical odds being stacked against them.With the placebo effect there is a “dummy pill”. In other cases, it is simply mind over matter or a belief in some alternative healing practice that results in the positive change.

It is clear that the conventional medical practitioner’s suspicions about alternative medicine are indeed well-founded but there is a distinct overlap between the two schools of thought. For example, I know of a medical doctor who practises homeopathy and there are more herbal treatments being included in conventional medicine all the time.( I don’t use the term traditional medicine because the tradition was herbal medicine before the advent of modern medicine only about one hundred years ago).

Conclusion

This hub has most of it’s emphasis on herbal medicine and modern medicine because the many other types of alternative therapies are not as easy to compare with conventional modern medicine. A major difference between the two schools of thought is that herbal medicine is more often about maintaining health and preventing illness while conventional medicine is about treating symptoms when they arise.You can read more about this in my other hub in this series: How to benefit from natural medicine

Perhaps the best way forward is to continue the overlap (which is evolving all the time) between both schools of thought but there is one thing for certain-there is no place for two types of drugs or remedies. The challenge for the herbal practitioner is to cooperate with research into his tried and tested remedies. It will be a case of proving their effectiveness and increasing the credibility of his profession.The challenge for the conventional physician is to be more open-minded about his herbal practitioner colleague.

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    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley Marks 

      5 years ago from California

      All of the aforementioned issues are valid. One should not ignore the dictates of modern medicine and rely solely on alternative medicine. I wish we could, but we dare not. Later!

    • Kate Mc Bride profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate McBride 

      6 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      you are right there AlexK2009.The wrong dosage is harmful as you say regardless of whether it is conventional or herbal medicine.Your point about testing being expensive is a very practical one.

    • AlexK2009 profile image

      AlexK2009 

      6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      I think the point is that every medicine in the wrong dose is harmful or ineffective. I agree more testing of Herbs needs to be done, but testing is expensive so the only thing herbalists can do is note how patients responded. Something could be done with Bayesian statistics but I am no statistician so I am not sure how they could help

    • Kate Mc Bride profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate McBride 

      6 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment and your point is well-made.

      The nature of science is that it cannot take the subtleties into account.

      The nature of medicine is that it has to focus on what it can do and you are right-the wholistic approach is not taken by some medical people simply because they have enough to do dealing with the physical stuff.

      The rest is up to ourselves and there is always the option of recovering from a disease by a good attitude-it has been and can be done.

    • profile image

      golden goose film 

      6 years ago

      We should be doing all we can to publicize the dangers of conventional medicine (When the AMA lists itself as the 4th biggest cause of death in the US) and we should do all we can to support organizations like National Health Freedom Coalition to ensure we have the right to choose the kinds of treatments we want and we should demand that peer reviewed clinical studies are undertaken that will provide the documentation that "conventional" medical mafia require, all the while remaining suspect and cautious, since the standards of success, criteria for testing and such often is not congruent with the paradigm of conventional medicine since science has not recognized the subtle

      energy which connects everything and has conscious thought at the root of it.

    • Kate Mc Bride profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate McBride 

      6 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      The ethic of regulation is good but as you say it is not the whole picture.

      I agree that making informed choices is the best way forward instead of too much regulation.The days of the omnipotent doctor and the patient who asks no questions is over which is indeed a good thing. I appreciate you taking the time to leave me this useful feedback.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 

      6 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      I think that it is all about choice. Everyone should have the right to choose what the put into their bodies. I know that regulation seems like the answer to everything, but it all boils down to educating ourselves to make the right choice for our situation.

    • Kate Mc Bride profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate McBride 

      6 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      I agree totally-sometimes the cure is worse than the disease in conventional medicine. I was thinking of doing an article on this to balance this one.Cheers for your feedback-much appreciated

    • intriguewriter profile image

      intriguewriter 

      6 years ago from worldwide

      Great article however, in my opinion conventional medicine is far more dangerous. They weaken your immune system and destroy your organs if taken often enough. However, it is true that you do need to be aware of some of the dangers associated with alternative medicine. Having said this people also need to be fully aware of how conventional medicine is killing us every day. Thanks for the info. Voted up.

    • Kate Mc Bride profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate McBride 

      6 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      Thanks to all three of you in America from Ireland for your very welcome feedback. Sorry I didn't reply to you individually but we are in a different time zone here. I was wary about the title myself but got carried away by my own respect for natural medicine after outlining the dangers.

      The next hubs on this topic will be on specific herbal and supplement remedies.Once again,I really appreciate you taking the time to comment so positively. Cheers:-)

    • BeautySavvy22 profile image

      Alyssa 

      6 years ago from York, Pennsylvania

      Definitely sheds a new light. Natural remedies doesn't mean it's always safe and there are still side effects and required amounts of dosage! Great article!

    • mismazda profile image

      mismazda 

      6 years ago from a southern georgia peach

      Great info that you shared about alternative medicines.......this is very important info to know...didn't realize the many dangers of these type of meds.Voted up and useful.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      6 years ago from California

      Was on the offensive when I read the title, but not at all after reading the hub. Truly wish more scientific studies were being done on natural remedies. I know there are years and years worth of research on acupuncture. Nicely written hub.

    • Kate Mc Bride profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate McBride 

      6 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      Funny,I thought that myself by the time I finished the article lol but I decided just to leave the title. Thank you kindly for your feedback and will be interested in your opinion on my other hubs.Cheers :-)

    • Lee Tea profile image

      Lee Tea 

      6 years ago from Erie, PA

      A pretty grim title for an otherwise pretty-balanced article. I thought you did well with this, pulling information and considerations from a broad perspective of the field of remedies in general. I'll be hopping your other hubs. Be well.

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