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The Risks Of Complementary And Alternative Medicine

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What is Complementary and alternative medicine ?

It is the use of non-medical methods in the healthcare process. These include the use of supplements, mind-body techniques, energy techniques and manipulation techniques.

How can CAM treatments be risky?

Many patients who use CAM take supplements such as vitamins, natural oils or herbal supplements. These products can sometimes cause hepato or nephrotoxicity in some patients. This is when the supplement, either by itself or in concert with a prescribed medication, acts as a poison in the body. Patients on medication must be extremely careful as supplements can reduce the effectiveness of the drugs or cause harmful side-effects. For example, the effectiveness of warfarin, a drug commonly taken by patients with heart problems, can be greatly reduced by taking ginseng.

How do I safely take my medication and CAM supplements?

The best thing is to talk to your GP or specialist. Most supplements are harmless by themselves but, in the wrong combination, can do serious damage to your health. Your doctor can look up possible interaction between medication and supplements and advise you.

Should I tell my doctor about my CAM?

Yes. It is very important that patients tell their doctor about any supplements or treatments that they are receiving. It is very important to report any side effects that you might experience. A lot of CAM patients do not report side effects because they believe that CAM treatments cannot damage their health. Just because a product is natural does not mean that it is harmless.

How should GPs advise patients using CAM ?

As the CAM market has grown, it has become increasingly important for doctors to understand the different techniques in CAM and the efficacy that the treatments can have especially for pain relief. GPs should be open to patients who want to talk about their CAM  treatment or ask for advice. Keeping open lines of communication between patient and doctor is extremely important. It’s critical that patients have confidence that their doctor has their health interests at heart and is willing to consider all alternatives for treatment. CAM practitioners are not qualified doctors – if a patient relies on their CAM practitioner for medical advice rather than their GP the consequences can be disastrous.


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