Alternative Treatments: Why the Interest?Out of a sense of dissatisfaction with more conventional arthritis treatments and a yearning for more relief, a big business has grown known as alternative treatments. There are myriad products and practices which fall into the alternative treatments category such as:
- biofeedback techniques
- chiropractic treatments
- homeopathy and homeopathic remedies
- herbal remedies
- massage therapy
- hypnosis / hypnotherapy
- dietary supplements
- meditation / relaxation techniques
A distinct division between conventional and alternative medicine used to exist but now the American Medical Association has relaxed its viewpoint. It now makes sense to look for real value within the alternative treatments. Those with real value can be complementary to the more conventional treatments.
American consumers are responsible for the boom in the business of alternative treatments, spending as much as 14 billion dollars a year on all types of alternative treatments, with 2.5 billion dollars a year spent on herbal medicine alone. The dollars spent are an indicator of the thirst people have for anything which offers them hope and relief. It must be realized that quacks and unscrupulous salesmen are ready and eager to quench that thirst. "Buyer Beware" is sound advice for people who explore alternative treatments.
No matter how great their appeal, alternative treatments should be approached with caution. Caution is emphasized because for the most part alternative treatments are unregulated. Since they remain unregulated the consumer has no guarantee of competence, effectiveness, or safety. It is strongly suggested that before trying one of the alternative treatments you educate yourself. Entering into the arena of alternative treatments lightly or blindly may have serious consequences.
Alternative Treatments: A Safe Approach - Be Aware
- Discuss alternative treatments with your doctor. Some alternative treatments will not hurt you, may even benefit you, but there is potential for harm. There can be negative interactions between herbal or nutritional supplements and your current medications. Never stop a current medication in favor of an alternative treatment. Abrupt stopping of some medications can have consequences. When alternatives are considered, it should be "in addition to" rather than "instead of" current medical treatment. When alternative treatments are used "in addition to" they are categorized as "complementary medicine".
- Often remedies attract people by proclaiming they are "natural" substances. People regard natural substances as synonymous with purity, however these substances can contain potentially toxic chemicals. Do not be swayed by the word "natural".
- Herbal supplements are not subjected to approval from any regulatory board. Manufacturers are not required to disclose a full list of ingredients with these products. Many of the supplements contain a mix of herbs and drugs, and it is unclear exactly what you are getting. In some cases, herbal products have been found to contain steroids, Valium, and aspirin-based preparations as additives.
- Some alternative practitioners are licensed while others are not. Practitioners of biofeedback, chiropractic, acupuncture, massage therapy, and naturopathy typically have their own state and national boards and associations which offer licenses after a certain level of training. These practitioners are not governed by the same regulations as physicians.
- The placebo effect can fool people into believing a treatment has true value. It has been proven that when people believe strongly in a treatment their endorphins and natural pain mediators are enhanced. Also, arthritis characteristically has periods of flares and remissions. People may attribute feeling better one of the alternative treatments when it is truly due to a remission.
Alternative Treatments: The Bottom Line
Doctors are much more open-minded and receptive to alternative treatments than in the past. They are beginning to see value in complementary medicine, realizing the high interest level of their patients in alternative treatments. Doctors continue to declare the importance of subjecting alternative treatments to scientific evaluation. Until alternative treatments are subjected to scientific evaluation and regulation, skeptics will continue.
Related Resources - Alternative Treatments
Weighing The Alternatives, Arthritis Today magazine, Nov./Dec.97; Alternative Medicine: Underevaluated or ineffective?, Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, editorial by J.D. Clough M.D., Apr.98