Friday, January 7, 2011

I’ve Heard Alternative Medicine is Dangerous…

 This is a topic that isn’t brought up in the US as often as it is in other countries, but it dovetails with the question of alternative medicine's efficacy. I’m bringing it up because I recently read an article stating that alterative treatments are dangerous and harmful. It’s a bit of a controversial topic, and one that engenders a lot of passionate arguments on both sides, but I want to write this article so it is helpful for consumers trying to make smart healthcare decisions.

I’m going to step briefly onto a soapbox for a moment and say that a double standard is held against naturopathic doctors in the arena of safety. In our media-driven age, isolated cases of adverse events are given disproportionate attention, and naturopathic doctors are called on to defend their system of medicine, whereas traditional medical doctors are not. That said, I want to underscore the fact that when dealing with sick people (as doctors do), the risk of adverse events or harm is always present, and it’s the skill of the practitioner that prevents them. Ok, off the soapbox now…

When I read reports like this, I fault the decisions made, not the tools used. In the article presented previously, there is a mention of a three-month old being put on a rice-milk diet for ‘congestion’ and dying five months later from septic shock and malnutrition. The tool, being a dairy-free diet, is indeed an appropriate treatment for some children suffering from allergies, frequent ear infections, asthma or eczema. However, the decision-making was poor, because infants, who have a need for the nutritional profile provided by breast milk, cannot subsist on rice milk alone. This was a tragic outcome caused by poor medical decision-making.

Another mention is made of a child who died of septic shock due to administration of homeopathic remedies and dietary restriction in an attempt to treat chronic eczema. As stated previously, a dairy-free diet or other dietary changes are indicated for eczema, and homeopathy may be used as an adjunct for this condition as well. However, the medical decision-making was likely at fault. While septic shock can arise very quickly, in most circumstances, there are several steps along the way. This is when medical decision-making kicks in. Appropriate monitoring and follow-up should have been able to prevent this.

As a consumer, these articles should not scare you away from natural treatments. Natural treatments generally have very few adverse effects, and are effective in a broad array of conditions. What this article should encourage you to do, however, is to seek out a properly trained practitioner from an accredited school. When seeking alternative care, do some research; ask them where they went to school, ask about their license, and about any additional training they may have had. Most naturopaths will be happy to talk with you about this, and many will be very excited to talk about their training! For further information, check out the AANP’s website, to learn more about accrediting, licensing, and to find a properly-trained naturopathic doctor in your area.