Alternative Medicine: Look out for danger signs!


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Alternative medicine refers to all herbs and acupuncture outside the medical mainstream (Tabish, 2008). It is grouped under the umbrella of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).

The National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) defines CAM as “a group of various medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be an aspect of conventional medicine (NCCAM, 2009). They are therapies used instead of traditional medicine. They include:

  • Acupuncture, which involves inserting very thin needles through a person’s skin at specific points to relieve mild pain and nausea;
  • Osteopathy and Chiropractic, which are manual therapies of the musculoskeletal system
  • Art or music therapy which can enhance quality of life;
  • Biofeedback, which is the use of monitoring devices to gain conscious control over physical processes e.g. heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, sweating, and muscle tension;
  • Massage therapy which helps decrease stress, anxiety, depression, and pain while increasing alertness;
  • Tai chi and yoga which have been shown to improve strength and balance in some people;
  • Herbal remedies;
  • Meditation; and
  • Vitamins and other supplements.

It is often assumed that because supposed medicines are natural, they are safe. This is untrue because there are also precautions associated with using herbal remedies (World Health Organisation, 2016).

Danger signs to look out for:

  1. Claims that alternative medicine methods cure difficult-to-treat diseases such as cancer: It is important to note that there is no proven cure for cancer (American Cancer Society, 2020) hence, such claims on medicines and methods could pose threat to the human body.
  2. Treatments that are not common: Medicines and methods that are not generally recognised especially those you can get at areas with less strict patient protection laws than those in the United States, the United Kingdom (UK) or the European Union (EU).
  3. Promoters of alternative medicine that discourage the use of standard or traditional medical treatment.
  4. A particular medicine that is claimed to cure various ailments all at once: This is a danger sign as most of the road side medicines are not scientifically tested or studied in people and/or animals.
  5. Claims that treatment have no side effects: According to the World Health Organisation, proper research is needed to ascertain the efficacy and safety of traditional medicine practices and medicinal plants used by traditional medicine systems.
  6. It is dangerous to believe personal stories that claim amazing results but provide no actual scientific evidence.
  7. Finally, it is crucial to ascertain the training and education of alternative medicine administrators.

Is alternative medicine a welcome development in medicine or has it done more harm than good? What other fads have you heard about the use of herbal remedies? What are your thoughts on the proper use of any of the alternative medicine methods?

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