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Serious Medicine. Extraordinary Care.

Safety and Risks of Alternative Therapy

Before considering complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)

Most complementary and alternative medicine fields are not standardized or controlled by any Western medical guidelines. Some CAM practitioners work in fields that require licensure or certification, or involve state oversight, such as acupuncturists, chiropractors, naturopaths and osteopaths. Others may have graduated from an accredited training program, such as art or music therapy. However, many CAM practitioners may not be formally trained or supervised by any national body. Always consult with your physician before beginning any complementary or alternative medicine therapy because some therapies may interfere with standard treatment.

Being an informed health care consumer when considering complementary or alternative medicine is important. Authoritative sites, such as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, can provide much valuable information. Ways to gather information before starting any therapy include:

  • Consulting your physician

  • Researching on the Internet

  • Researching in the library (books, articles, and scientific journals)

  • Speaking with others who have tried the therapy

  • Looking for controlled, scientific studies about the therapy, whenever possible

Professional organizations for CAM therapists often provide referrals to practitioners as well as information on therapies, standards of practice and training, and state licensing requirements. One source is the National Library of Medicine's Directory of Health Organizations Online.

State regulatory agencies or licensing boards for health care professionals may provide information regarding practitioners in your area.  

What warning signs may indicate a fraudulent therapy?

According to the American Cancer Society, if a treatment has the following warning signs, it is better to avoid it:

  • Treatment that is based on unproven theories

  • Treatment that promises or guarantees a cure

  • Treatment in which you are told not to use standard or conventional medicine

  • Treatment that is a secret and that can only be give by certain providers

  • Treatment that requires travel to another country

  • Treatment providers who discount standard or conventional medicine