As a kid I remember that when I would get a tummy ache, my mom would ask me to lie down and slowly sip through a drink of homemade lemonade with a dash of black salt, before dad could take me to a physician.
Today when I look back and remember, I reckon that to treat my tummy ache I was put on a course of an integrative medicine Alternative Medicine (the lemonade) + Conventional Medicine (physician prescribed drugs).
Alternative Medicine & Its Usage
Complementary and Alternative Medicine or CAM, comprises a broad range of healthcare practices, products, and systems, which don’t form a part of the conventional medicine. For instance, herbal materials, preparations and products used by Asian systems of medicine such as Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese medicine. It also includes practices viz. Acupressure, acupuncture, aromatherapy, or mind body approaches such as prayer, mental healing, meditation, etc.
Moreover, a lot of people around the world use Alternative medicines, for example in China it makes up for about 40% of healthcare delivered, in Africa 80% of the population uses it, about 48% Australians have used it at least once. In North America, 42% of USA and 70% of Canada have used it at least once. Usage is similar in Europe too, for instance 75% of France has used it at least once.
Is It Effective?
“It is,” “it isn’t,” and “I can’t say,” all of these at the same time. Given the scientific research conducted on Alternative medicine till now, it appears that a sweeping statement would be a bit too far fetched.
For instance, evidence in support of acupuncture, many herbal medicines and manual treatments does exist. On the other hand St. John’s wort didn’t seem to have an affect on the symptoms of ADHD in children and adolescents (Weber W, Vander Stoep A, McCarty RL, et al, 2008). And that, “I can’t say,” because research on many such treatments is unavailable.
Is It Safe?
Today, a perception exists that if something is natural or organic, it can’t be harmful. This belief might not be true in all cases, e.g. Snake venom is all natural and organic, but is it safe for human consumption?
Sometimes herbs can be harmful by their very nature, e.g. kava and comfrey are herbs but still have been associated with liver damage.
At other times inappropriate regulation or administration of herbs and therapeutic procedures could render highly effective alternative treatments hazardous. Consider acupuncture, though it’s been found to be effective, but if unsterilized needles are used it could lead to infection. Similarly, an overdose of Ephedra, a herbal remedy of respiratory congestion may lead to heart attacks, strokes and even death.
Forget herbs, an overdose of water too can lead to water intoxication and even death. Herbs aren’t an exception and some of them may even react undesirably with other conventional medication, or some might not be suitable for consumption during pregnancy.
However, undesirable consequences of alternative treatments due to inappropriate administration, by no means imply that alternative treatments are unsafe by themselves. Rather, proven alternative medicines when properly administered, are not only safe, potent and cost effective, but also offer patients a choice.
All in all, an absolute yes or no answer vis-a-vis safety and effectiveness of Alternative medicine doesn’t exist. Assuming quality formulation of Alternative medicines, they can either be a boon or a bane depending upon which treatments are administered, as also when and how they’re used.
BTW, I still relish the lemonade my mom makes, whether I have a tummy ache or not!