Alternative medicine is defined as any medical system used to replace modern conventional medicine. Doctors argue the spread of misinformation regarding alternative medicine’s capabilities is harmful to the public. Proponents of alternative medicine contend it provides many benefits that modern medicine cannot. Where do you stand?
Alternative medicine can include things like herbal remedies, reflexology and acupuncture. Even chiropractic and nutritional supplements are considered to be forms of alternative medicine.
People turn to alternative medicine for a number of reasons. For some, modern medicine has proven ineffective. For others, it’s about saving money. Some people just appreciate a more holistic approach to healing, where the mind, body, and spirit are considered.
According to LiveStrong’s Amber Keefer, alternative medicine is more accessible to the masses and brings with it a number of benefits:
Alternative medicine also offers treatment options to individuals who do not have access to pain clinics under their health insurance plans. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Health System found that older individuals, who are more likely to suffer chronic pain conditions, use alternative therapies more frequently.
Alternative medicine therapies can be less expensive than conventional medical treatments. Although some alternative therapies are not cheap, many herbal remedies and other natural treatments still cost less than prescription medications and treatments. Acupuncture and chiropractic sessions can cost significantly less than conventional pain therapy treatments.
A new study published by the American Society of Clinical Oncology found that nearly 40 percent of Americans incorrectly believe alternative medicine can cure cancer. Out of the 4,800 people surveyed, 1,000 were cancer patients and survivors.
Some alternative medicine strategies like medicinal marijuana can help curb symptoms of cancer treatment, such as nausea after chemotherapy. But according to the FDA, the benefits end there when it comes to cancer.
NBC’s Maggie Fox spoke with Dr. Richard Schilsky, ASCO Chief Medical Officer, about the study. According to Schilsky:
‘The vast majority of alternative therapies either haven’t been rigorously studied or haven’t been found to benefit patients. When patients are making critical decisions about which cancer treatments to undergo, it is always best to follow the evidence from well-designed research studies.’
Doctors and the Food and Drug Administration have warned for years that unproven treatments may lure patients away from legitimate therapy that can save their lives.
Fox also looked to Dr. Skyler Johnson of the Yale Cancer Center for insight. Johnson points out why so many people trust alternative medicine:
‘People feel like these types of therapies align with their personal and philosophical beliefs about managing their health. They want some form of autonomy and they want to make their own decisions about treatment.’
Education on alternative medicine and its benefits are paramount. The answer to the spread of misinformation regarding alternative medicine is not censoring it completely. Alternative strategies do have a number of solutions that modern medicine cannot. NPR’s Ira Flatow spoke with Victoria Maizes of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine on one particular scenario:
FLATOW: Do you ever tell patients when they come in, if they come in for alternative therapies, that, wait a minute, there’s some great Western traditional, I mean, commonly accepted therapies that might work better for you?
MAIZES: Absolutely. So, for example, at our center, we have had patients who’ve come in with testicular cancer, young men, a highly curable cancer. And they come and said, well, I only want to do alternative. And in that situation, we uniformly say that’s an error. You really need to use conventional treatment….However, you can use some of the principles and practices of integrative medicine to reach a better result.
Let me give you a clinical example. We had a patient come in who had breast cancer. She was in her early 40s. She had four children. She also had diabetes. When she would have chemo, she would go into diabetic ketoacidosis and be hospitalized in the ICU.
After the second round, her oncologist said I can’t treat you. It’s too risky. You could die as a result. And she came to our center and said, I have to be fully treated for cancer. I have four children. I have to live. I have to have aggressive treatment. And we were able to put a regimen of supportive therapies that included acupuncture. It included mind-body strategies. It included some herbal medicine to allow her to get through the complete course of conventional treatment. And we know that if people can finish the complete course, the likelihood is they will have a better outcome. That’s the beauty of integrative medicine.
There is also large concern for the lack of regulation surround alternative therapies. Without any regulation, knowledge of side effects or insight into long-term impact, results for patients can be disastrous. According to The Guardian:
In conventional medicine, numerous safeguards are in place to make sure doctors adhere to generally accepted ethical standards. In alternative medicine, however, medical ethics has largely remained a blind spot.
In order to ensure the consumers’ choice generates more good than harm, the publicly available information on alternative medicine would need to be reliable. We all know that this is not the case…Who, for instance, could even begin to vet the 50m or so websites that supply consumers with information on alternative treatments? But at the very least, information provided by healthcare professionals should not endanger the consumer.
The undeniable fact, however, is that the information supplied by practitioners of alternative medicine is often incomplete, wrong or dangerously misleading to the point of seriously endangering public health and thus violating medical ethics.
The lack of regulations combined with the spread of misinformation leads to results like those in ASCO’s study, where a huge portion of the population believes alternative medicine can cure a disease it simply cannot. Trusting licensed doctors and governing medical bodies is the only way to keep the public safe and healthy.
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