Relying Too Much on Complementary Therapies Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Complementary therapies should be just that: a complement, not a substitute, for proven treatments. Don’t rely on them alone.

Complementary and alternative therapies are touted for many different types of conditions and diseases. Many people choose them believing that they can be as — or even more — effective than more traditional therapies. However, a new study out last week emphasizes that relying too much on these alternative therapies can be dangerous to your health — or even deadly.

People who elected to use a type of complementary therapy to treat 1 of 4 types of cancer — breast, colorectal, lung and prostate –- had nearly twice the risk of dying over a 9-year period compared to those that used traditional treatment, such as chemotherapy, according to the study, published in JAMA Oncology.

The complementary therapies tended to include meditation, diets, herbs and nutritional supplements. The study also found that those who chose complementary therapy were more likely to refuse treatments like hormone therapy, radiation or surgery.

The bottom line: Complementary therapies should be just that: a complement, not a substitute, for proven treatments. Don’t rely on them alone.

If you are considering complementary therapies for a condition you have, you should know that many of them lack the breadth of scientific studies to back up their claims that FDA-approved treatments do. Before starting any kind of complementary therapy, do your own research, and as always, discuss it with your health care professional.

Another misconception about some homeopathic treatments is that because they are naturally derived, they must be safe. However, it is important to note that many vitamins and herbs can interact with medications, potentially making other drugs one is taking less effective or leading to unexpected side effects.

Much of the reason why people seek complementary medicine is because of the side effects associated with treatments. Cancer treatments, in particular, can have particularly harsh side effects. This is where alternative therapies can perhaps be best used –- as a way to manage the side effects of drugs.

For example, there is evidence that yoga and exercise can minimize side effects associated with some cancer treatments. Another study found that yoga can alleviate the side effects of radiation therapy seen in prostate cancer patients.

Complementary medicines can play a role in improving one’s quality of life as they battle disease. Just don’t make the mistake of looking at alternative medicines solely as a cure.

Jonathan Block

Jonathan Block is a freelance writer and former MedShadow content editor. He has been an editor and writer for multiple pharmaceutical, health and medical publications, including BioCentury, The Pink Sheet, Modern Healthcare, Health Plan Week and Psychiatry Advisor. He holds a BA from Tufts University and is earning an MPH with a focus on health policy from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.

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