Special to the Delta County Independent

The practice of alternative medicine refers to products, practices and treatments that are of part of traditional medical practice. These non-standard treatments are used in place of standard treatment. A partial list of alternative medical practices includes acupuncture, aroma therapy and homeopathy (using small amounts of natural substances to stimulate the body’s own healing ability). Practitioners of naturopathy use a combination of these techniques to stimulate the body’s own healing ability (herbs, massage, acupuncture and homeopathic preparations). Complementary medicine usually means that these treatments are used along with standard treatment.

Another area that is attracting increased attention is lifestyle medicine. It seeks to prevent and treat illness through healthy eating, physical activity, and other healthy behaviors without the use of medications. Proper diet and exercise is well known and frequently used by traditional medical practitioners as part of their overall treatment regimen for medical problems including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol values. If you are considering the use of alternative medical practices, please discuss it with your current healthcare providers.

As a physician, I am supportive of my patients that desire to use alternative practices in a complimentary manner to their current therapy or even to give them a trial prior to starting a traditional medicine care plan.

Prior to beginning alternative therapy there are several important ground rules to establish. First, the condition that needs treatment must be one that does not require immediate interventions with medicine. If someone has the new onset of type 1 diabetes — where the body has lost its ability to make insulin, delaying the use of insulin is not an option. Insulin is lifesaving and to withhold it would be dangerous. On the other hand, if someone has a new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes — where there is not an absolute deficiency of insulin, then lifestyle change, herbs and supplements may be safe to try.

Second, you need to define in advance what the definition of “success” is for the treatment. Lowering blood pressure with garlic must reach the goal of a blood pressure under 140/90 mmHg if it is going to be used long-term.

Third, a reasonable timeframe for the trial is established based on the condition being treated. Will the response be checked after one week, one month or longer? Too often patients so want the treatment to work that they will give the treatment excessive amounts of time to work which can result in harm to their bodies.

Finally, be as critical in evaluating the effectiveness, side effects and cost of the alternative therapies as you would be of the traditional therapies. Safe, effective, generic medicines are often less expensive than the supplements that the patient may choose to use.

Beware of any products or services that “over promise” to deliver on improvement. Avoid any treatments that promise to be “100% effective.” When products claim to be backed by medical research, ask to see the research and find out where it was published. Complementary medicine can be helpful.

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