The Dangers of Alternative Medicine
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.