Thursday, February 2, 2012

Reader's Digest: 6 Rules for Using Alternative Remedies Wisely...REALLY?

Reader's Digest: 6 Rules for Using Alternative Remedies Wisely....REALLY?

This article in the October issue of Reader’s Digest is typical of the all-too-often back-handed praise the traditional allopathic medical model bestows on alternative therapies. The main message to patients is to use alternative therapy with caution; implying that it may be dangerous and/or possibly delay real medical care at the risk of peril, at worst…and a waste of money, at best.


Except for #1 and  #4 below, I don’t take issue with their specific rules of engagement. Those two aside, the remaining rules are reasonable. So what is my problem here, and why blog about it?


The most glaring and rankling observation I make is the holier than thou blanket statements. After all, shouldn’t the patient follow the same 6 rules for using medical doctors, drugs and surgeries?

(Note: my comments are in RED)


6 Rules for Using Alternative Remedies Wisely

from Reader's Digest October 2011  Kathi Kemper, MD, chair of the complementary and integrative medicine department at Wake Forest School of Medicine

1. Discuss it with your doctor first. Most physicians are surprisingly open-minded about complementary therapies, our experts say. I suspect that many MD’s may be open-minded to alternative therapies, but certainly not most. I suggest it often boils down to geographic location and community mindset; ie. if the community is prone to alternative therapies, it will attract more MD’s open to them as well. Always tell your doctor about herbs or supplements you’re taking because some interact with medications. How is this any different than telling your doctor about other medications that you may be on from other MD’s? Ask for evidence. Ask your MD for independent evidence (NOT corporate sponsored studies performed and published by the pharmaceutical and medical supply manufacturers...which are beyond biased, and outright corrupt) that supports their recommendations as well. While the medical community speaks as if all they do is supported by hard evidence, only 15% of everything MD’s do (from drugs, to surgeries, tests, procedures, etc) has the type of double blind evidence that they demand of all other forms of therapy.

2. Testimonials are not enough.  If you’re not sure whether something is legit, check it out on the site for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine ( or the National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus ( or other evidence-based sites, such as Beware of red flags. Clearly, the same is true for all medical treatments as well…only more so, because the fatal and disabling consequences of medical care gone awry are way more prevalent…beyond comparison!

3. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Remember that problems that have stumped medical science, like Alzheimer’s, are magnets for snake oil salesmen. Request references. Again, it is foolish, and more dangerous, to believe otherwise of medical treatments.

4. A legitimate practitioner will be able to offer references from at least two medical doctors and be willing to work with your physician.  A good place to start your search: the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine ( herbs and supplements wisely. While it can’t hurt to ask your MD if they have heard anything (good or bad) about a particular alternative health practitioner, their word should not be final. It is too often akin to asking the manufacturers of Coke if you should drink Pepsi. Opinions and referrals of satisfied patients, for both medical and alternative practitioners, are always a good idea.

5. The label should include a list of ingredients and an expiration or best-used-by date. Keep in mind that these products aren’t regulated as tightly as drugs; ones from developing countries sometimes contain heavy metals like lead, other herbs, or pharmaceuticals. Add a layer of protection by consulting, which tests supplements for contamination and strength. Its website provides buying advice; $2.25 per month gives you access to all its reports. One should always know as much as possible about what one puts in one’s mouth! I suggest it would be very difficult to find any statistically significant incidence of harm done by supplements. On the other hand, prescription medications (mostly, used as prescribed (>100,000 deaths/year)…but also legal prescriptions used illegally (~40,000deaths/year) ) are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Again, there is no comparison between the pandemic deaths caused by pharmaceutical drugs and miniscule incidence of harm caused by herbs and supplements. Understand the limits. One of the greatest fallacies perpetuated by the medical community is that medical care fixes anything and everything that ails you.  Let's be clear: the only thing that heals you, is YOU.

The medical model is a disease model whose invasive interventions (drugs/surgery) work to coerce the body to comply. In extreme cases, these major medical interventions can border on the miraculous, buying time for the body’s immune and healing responses to kick in. If the problem/disease/injury has exceeded your body’s ability to heal itself, extreme medical measures may only succeed in keeping you alive longer than you wish. More importantly, this invasive and chemically-based model applied to everyday health has proven disastrous.

Alternative health practitioners typically guide patients to lifestyle choices that promote health and direct care at supporting the body’s innate capacity for self-regulation and self-healing.

We would be better served if we truly understood the limitations of medical interventions.

6. Complementary medicine should be just that—an addition to conventional care. It shouldn’t be a substitute for seeing your doctor….and seeing your doctor, having and passing regular scans of all sorts, and taking routine prescription drugs shouldn’t be equated with being healthy, or disarm you from taking responsibility for your health by committing to a lifetime, lifestyle of health and wellness.

Upshot: people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Modern medicine needs to stop creating fear and casting aspersions about Alternative Therapies and look to cleaning its own house.

Modern medicine is the leading cause of death in America. The statistics are more than frightening. This statistic alone is mind numbing:

“In the US, over 12,000people die every week (624,000/year) from health care gone awry. These aren’t people who die because of the illness or injury that brings them to the doctor. These are people who die because of the care they receive once they get there.”

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