- (WebMD) - Alternative medicine is big business. Consider
these facts, from a survey published in the November 11, 1998, issue of
the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzing data from 1997:
- Four out of 10 of us used some type of alternative medicine.
Total visits to alternative-medicine practitioners increased by almost
50 percent from 1990 and exceeded visits to all primary-care physicians.
We spent an estimated $21.2 billion on alternative health care, more than
half of which was paid out-of-pocket. At the same time, alternative medicine
has come under closer scrutiny. In a scathing editorial in its September
17, 1998, edition, The New England Journal of Medicine lambasted alternative
remedies as being irrational, insufficiently tested and sometimes dangerous.
"There cannot be two kinds of medicine," Journal editors Marcia
Angell, M.D., and Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D., wrote.
- With all the complex and contradictory information available,
how can we successfully negotiate the minefield of information about alternative
therapies? Eschewing nontraditional therapies altogether is shortsighted
and limiting, but accepting it all -- hook, line and sinker -- would be
reckless and potentially dangerous. Instead, we need to become savvy health-care
consumers. Here, some guidelines to keep in mind as you begin your search.
- 1. First, and perhaps most importantly, trust your instincts
and be cautious. To be safe, look for alternative remedies that are inexpensive,
easy to obtain, and not likely to cause harmful side effects.
- 2. Second, beware of miracle cures. Keep in mind the
old adage, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
In particular, Consumer Reports, in a February 1997 article, advises us
to be skeptical about anyone who promises to treat an impossibly long list
of diseases, who talks about "a new paradigm" for treating disease
or who complains too frequently that conventional medicine ignores their
- 3. Third, treat serious symptoms seriously. For example,
if you have Crohn's disease, you should not hesitate to take the medicine
your doctor has prescribed, knowing that left unchecked, the illness might
lead to the loss of part or all of your colon. Once the illness is safely
under control, however, you may try out alternative methods for reducing
stress, which can lead to a flare-up.
- 4. Finally, find a reliable guide. You wouldn't take
medicine without a prescription, and you shouldn't plunge into alternative
care without some expert advice. Ideally, you should choose a licensed
medical professional, such as a physician or nurse practitioner, who practices
some alternative techniques or who can refer you to providers who do.
- The best of both worlds
- Conventional medicine is not the end-all and be-all of
health care today, but alternative medicine may not hold the magic cure,
either. Each of us is unique, and the treatment that works best for your
health problems will be unique as well. It's best to approach health-care
decisions with an open mind, some good information, and the knowledge that
you have the right and the responsibility to get well.
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