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Precautions To Take When Using Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Are Complementary and Alternative Therapies Safe?
Each treatment needs to be considered on its own. However, here are some issues to think about when considering a complementary or alternative (natural) therapy:

Many consumers believe that "natural" means the same thing as "safe." This is not necessarily true. For example, think of mushrooms that grow in the wild: some are safe to eat, while others are poisonous.

“Natural” does not always equate with effectiveness either. You may like to do your own research on what therapies have been proven to be effective for particular illnesses, or seek referrals from people who have had good results from a particular type of treatment.

Individuals respond differently to treatments. How a person might respond to an alternative therapy depends on many things, including the person's state of health, how the treatment is used, or the person's belief in the treatment.

For a natural health product that is sold over the counter (without a prescription), such as a dietary supplement, safety can also depend on a number of things:
• The components or ingredients that make up the product
• Where the components or ingredients come from
• The quality of the manufacturing process (for example, how well the manufacturer is able to avoid contamination).

The training, skill, and experience of the practitioner can also affect safety. However, in spite of careful and skilled practice, all treatments--whether natural (complementary or alternative) or conventional--can have risks.

Are There Any Risks to Using Complementary and Alternative Therapies?
Are There Any Risks to Using Complementary and Alternative Therapies? Yes, there can be risks, as with any medical therapy. These risks depend upon the specific therapy. The following are general suggestions to help you learn about or minimize the risks.

Discuss with your primary health care practitioner any complementary or alternative treatment that you are considering or are using; it is important for your safety and for a comprehensive treatment plan. For example, herbal or botanical products and other dietary supplements may interact with medications (prescription or non-prescription). They may also have negative, even dangerous, effects on their own. For example, research has shown that the herb St. John's wort, which is used by some people to treat depression, may cause certain drugs to become less effective. And kava, an herb that has been used for insomnia, stress, and anxiety, has been linked to liver damage.

Self-medicate with caution, particularly during pregnancy and nursing, or if you have any serious ailments such as heart disease or blood pressure problems. Learn about the potential dangers of some herbs and their interactions with other medications. It is always best to check with your health care provider before using over the counter remedies, but if you do self-medicate, read the labels of supplements carefully for contra-indications. Many health stores which stock herbal and other remedies have trained naturopaths on their staff - ask their advice. Take care when using Chinese or homoeopathic “formulas” bought over the counter. They may be very different from a formula a trained practitioner would prescribe for you since these are highly individualised treatments.

If you have more than one health care provider, let all of them know about all therapies you are using (natural and conventional). This will help each provider make sure that all aspects of your health care work together.

Take charge of your health by being an informed consumer. Find out what the scientific evidence is about any treatment's safety and whether it works.

If you decide to use a natural therapy that would be given by a practitioner, choose the practitioner carefully to help minimize any possible risks (see How to Choose a Practitioner).


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