Complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) are health-care systems, practices and products that are not a part of conventional medicine. Conventional medicine is practiced by medical doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers and psychologists.
The list of complementary and alternative therapies changes frequently. Sometimes treatments are proven safe and effective. They may then become part of conventional treatment.
Complementary medicine versus alternative medicine
Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine. An example might be using aromatherapy in addition to your medication.
Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. An example would be replacing all your prescribed medicine with a special diet and supplements.
Talk to your doctor before starting any CAMs. You still need to take your prescribed medications.
Different types of CAM
Below are several different types of CAMs including information on how to evaluate CAMs before trying them.
Mind and body practices
Some CAMs address both the body and mind and how they work in health and disease. Examples of whole body system CAMs are:
• Homeopathic medicine: This is the treatment of illnesses using very small doses of substances such as plant, mineral or animal extracts.
• Naturopathic medicine: This is the use of natural, non-medical remedies to treat illnesses.
• Traditional Chinese medicine includes a range of practices that started in China over several thousand years ago. These practices include herbal medicine, acupuncture and massage, and Qigong (a type of exercise).
• Ayurveda: This is an ancient healing practice that originated in India. It views health as a balance and integration of the body, mind and spirit and provides guidelines for daily and seasonal routines, diet, behaviour, and use of the senses.
• Mind-body medicine: This includes meditation and prayer.
• Manipulative practices: This includes chiropractic, osteopathy and massage. Chiropractic treatments focus on adjusting the spine and manipulating the other joints and soft-tissues. Osteopathy is the use of certain manual and physical treatments to treat back and neck pain.
• Energy medicine: This includes energy field and bioelectromagnetic-based treatments such as magnets. Energy therapies focus on the energy fields thought to exist in and around the body.
A dietary supplement contains ingredients to add to the diet. These ingredients may be vitamins, minerals, herbs or other plant materials, amino acids, or enzymes. Supplements may come in pill, capsule, powder or liquid form. They may be sold in a grocery, health food, or drug store. You can also get them through the Internet, TV or direct sales.
Some dietary supplements have been proven effective. For example, folic acid taken during pregnancy can help prevent certain birth defects. However, many supplements claim to treat or even cure JIA. Unfortunately, there is usually no scientific evidence to support these claims.
‘Natural’ doesn’t always mean ‘safe’
There are many safe and effective supplements that come from natural sources like plants. Many traditional medicines also come from natural sources. However, ‘natural’ does not always mean ‘safe’. Natural products can have side effects too. For example, there are mushrooms that grow naturally and are poisonous!
Dietary supplements may be regulated as ‘foods’. They do not need to meet the same safety and effectiveness standards as medications do.
Some supplements have caused harm to people. The herbs kava and comfrey have caused severe liver damage. Some supplements can be toxic or dangerous. A supplement can be contaminated with heavy metals, prescription drugs, or pesticides.
A supplement may interact with other medications you are taking. Studies have found that many bottles of commonly available supplements:
• did not contain the ingredients listed on the label
• had very little of the active ingredient
• were contaminated with other dangerous compounds.
Evaluating complementary and alternative therapies
If you are using or considering CAMs, talk to your doctor or nurse. Some of these therapies may interfere with your medical treatment.
How to get reliable information about a therapy
Find out what scientific studies say about the therapy you are interested in. Don’t take a therapy simply because you saw it in an advertisement or on a website. Don’t just take a therapy because someone told you that it worked for them. Find out whether scientific studies published in peer-reviewed journals support the claims made for that therapy.
Learn about the treatment’s risks, potential benefits and scientific evidence. This is critical to your health and safety. Scientific research on many therapies is relatively new. This kind of information may not be available for every therapy. However, many studies on treatments are under way. Our knowledge and understanding of CAMs is increasing all the time. To find out more about current therapies, check out the Australian government Therapeutic Goods Administration website: www.tga.gov.au/complementary-medicines-overview
Here are some tips to help you determine if the website is of good quality. Remember SCREEN!
|S = Source||Is the sponsor of the site credible? Check out their credentials. One way to do this, though it’s not 100% accurate, is by looking at the domain. Is the site: government (.gov), educational (.edu), or nonprofit organisations (.org)? Is the site current? What is the last date it was updated?|
|C = Conflict of interest or bias||Is the site selling or promoting a product or service?|
|R = editorial Review process||Is there an editorial process or seal of approval?|
|E = Evidence-based||Are the claims based on scientific research and is there documentation?|
|E = Extreme claims||Does the site claim “miracles,” “amazing results,” or ”earthshaking breakthroughs?” Any claim that a treatment works for dozens of different problems, or has a 95% or 99% improvement rate, is likely to be misleading and driven by profit.|
|N = Not related||Is the information unrelated to or different from what you were told by your health-care provider?|
Before trying a therapy
Ask your doctor before trying therapies. What works for someone else might not necessarily work for you.
Find out about the person giving the treatment. What kind of training does he or she have? How many of these treatments has the person performed? Does the practitioner belong to an organised group of some kind?
Find out how much the treatment will cost. Also see if your insurance will cover it. Beware of alternative medicine practitioners who say they can cure diseases that do not respond to conventional medicine.
You might think that your doctor doesn’t want you to try CAM therapies. Because of this, you might feel uncomfortable telling your doctor. But it’s important for your doctor to know about all the treatments you are considering. Some CAM therapies can interfere with conventional treatments. This could make the JIA worse. Keep your doctor informed. It will ensure that you get the best care.