Con: Potential Health Risks
There's a reason why the FDA regulates drugs. Maintaining a certain standard of safeness minimizes the possibility that a drug will hurt instead of help. First, you may have noticed on every bottle of multivitamins proclaiming it contains, say, selenium for prostate health, it also says that the claim has not been approved by the FDA. Generally speaking, alternative treatments like nutritional supplements don't have to meet the same standards of clinical trials; they go through the approval process for foods, not for drugs. As a result, there are a couple of big issues with, say, a vitamin supplement.
First, there's not always a lot of good evidence proving it works. In most cases, there's plenty of evidence that it's safe to consume. But does coenzyme Q10 really help treat congestive heart failure? The studies have had mixed results. There's just no way to know if a supplement is going to do what it promises.
An ineffective treatment is definitely a problem. A harmful treatment, though, is an even bigger one. Some research has found that men who take too many multivitamins are actually more likely to develop prostate cancer [source: Medical News]. Beyond supplements, even something totally natural like soy can have health risks. While studies show that eating at least 25 grams of soy protein every day can lower LDL cholesterol by 13 percent -- a significant number -- many of those same studies also show that soy can increase the risk of breast cancer [source: AFP]. And just because you don't need a prescription to buy a bottle of pills doesn't mean those pills can't interact negatively with other drugs you're on. If you don't tell your doctor what you're taking, even if it's just a vitamin, you can't be sure you won't end up with a dangerous drug interaction.
Perhaps the most crucial issue to note, though, is the false sense of security that can occur with alternative treatments. Some people think they can stop taking conventional drugs or seeing their medical doctor because a particular alternative therapy is having a good effect. This can be deadly. If you plan on taking that step, talk to your doctor first. It may save your life.
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More Great Links
- Alternative Therapies: Part II. Congestive Heart Failure and Hypercholesterolemia. American Family Physician. Sept. 15, 2000. http://www.aafp.org/afp/20000915/1325.html
- Be Skeptical About Alternative Therapies - Lifestyle Changes To Protect Yourself: Heart
- Disease. AOLHealth. http://www.aolhealth.com/heart-disease/learn-about-it/lifestyle-changes-to-protect- yourself/be-skeptical-about-alternative-therapies
- Carrots. The World's Healthiest Foods. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=21
- Heart Disease. The Chiropractic Resource Organization. http://www.chiro.org/alt_med_abstracts/Alternative_Medicine_Approaches.shtml #Heart_Disease
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Therapies http://nccam.nih.gov/
- Virgin Olive Oil Better for Heart. WebMD Health. Sept. 5, 2006. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/544178
HowStuffWorks shares the story of former naturopath Britt Marie Hermes who speaks out against the industry.