Posted by: Thixia | November 7, 2008

Alternative medicine 2 of 2

Look for solid scientific studies


If you read about studies in journal articles, assess the quality of the research.  Look for words such as “double-blind,” “controlled” and “randomized.” Doctors consider these types of studies to contain the most valuable information.  Here are some common terms you’ll encounter in research articles:


Clinical studies. 


These involve studies on human beings – not animals.  They generally come after studies that demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of the treatment in animals and in the lab.  Studies done solely in test tubes and petri dishes can’t prove benefit to humans. 


Randomized, controlled trials. 


Participants in these trials usually are divided into groups.  One group receives the treatment under investigation.  Another group may be a control group — participants receive standard treatment, no treatment or an inactive substance called a placebo.  Participants are assigned to these groups on a random basis.  This helps ensure that the groups will be similar. 


Double-blind studies. 


In these studies, neither the researchers nor the human subjects know who will receive the active treatment and who will receive the placebo. 


Look for peer-reviewed journals — those that only publish articles reviewed by an independent panel of medical experts.  Also look for replicated studies, ones that have been repeated by different investigators with generally the same results. 


One or two small studies, whether the results are positive or negative, usually aren’t enough to make a definite decision about whether to use or skip a specific treatment.  Unfortunately, there are a limited number of quality studies on many alternative medicine treatments.  Keep in mind that while solid research studies are the best way to evaluate whether a treatment is safe and effective, a lack of solid evidence doesn’t always mean these treatments don’t work — but it does mean they haven’t been proved. 


Research studies on alternative medicine are being conducted every year.  As research continues, many of the answers about whether these treatments are safe or effective will become clearer.  Much of the funding for these studies comes from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which is also a good resource to examine when investigating alternative medicine treatments. 


Evaluate providers


When selecting an alternative treatment provider, evaluate your options.  Simply choosing a name from a telephone directory is risky if you have no other information about the provider.  You might try checking with:


Medical centers.  At many medical centers, CAM practioners are working collaboratively with conventional physicians. 


State regulators.  Check your state government listings for agencies that regulate and license health care providers.  These agencies may list practitioners in your area and offer a way to check credentials. 


National associations.  National associations and their local affiliates can usually provide you with the names of certified practitioners in your area.  To find the addresses and phone numbers of these associations, visit your local library or use the Internet to find association Web sites.  But be careful — official-sounding organizations aren’t always reputable.  Talk with your doctor or another trusted health care professional for advice. 


Friends and family.  If you know someone who’s received the treatment you’re considering, he or she can offer advice.  Ask about his or her experiences with specific providers.  Call the provider to request an interview. 


Many treatments, both conventional and unconventional, have risks and side effects.  With any treatment you consider, find out if the potential benefits outweigh the risks.  Also find out exactly what the treatment will cost. 


Dietary supplements:


‘Natural’ doesn’t always mean safe


Herbal remedies, vitamins, and minerals, considered dietary supplements by the FDA, don’t have the same rigorous testing and labelling process as over-the-counter and prescription medications.  Yet, some of these substances, including products labelled as “natural,” have drug-like effects that can be dangerous.  Even some vitamins and minerals can cause problems when taken in excessive amounts.  While some changes to federal labelling guidelines have helped protect consumers by requiring manufacturers to evaluate the identity, purity, strength, and composition of dietary supplements, some companies have until 2010 to meet the new labelling requirements.  And even stricter guidelines aren’t a guarantee these products are entirely safe or effective.  Before taking a dietary supplement, carefully investigate potential benefits and side effects. 


Talk to your doctor before taking a dietary supplement.  This is especially if you are pregnant, nursing a baby, or if you have a chronic medical condition such as diabetes or heart disease. 


Avoid drug interactions.  Prescription and over-the-counter medications can interact with certain dietary supplements.  For example, the anticoagulant Coumadin (a prescription medication), ginkgo biloba (an herbal supplement) and Vitamin E can all thin the blood.  Taking these products together can increase your risk of internal bleeding or other problems. 


Tell your doctor about any supplements you take before surgery.  Some supplements can cause problems during surgery such as changes in heart rate or blood pressure or increased bleeding.  You may need to stop taking these supplements at least two to three weeks before your procedure. 


Don’t forgo conventional treatment


Ideally the various forms of treatments you select should work together with the care of your conventional doctor.  You may find that certain alternative treatments help you maintain your health and relieve some of your symptoms.  But continue to rely on conventional medicine to diagnose a problem and treat diseases.  Don’t change your conventional treatment — such as your dose of prescribed medication — without talking to your doctor first.  For your safety, tell your doctor about all alternative treatments you use. 


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