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The Truth About Alternative Medicine

Posted in News by Skepdude on December 11, 2008

Is natural better? Apparently, a lot of women think so. A survey released today by the National Institutes of Health found that 42.8 percent of American women use some form of complementary or alternative medicine, compared to 33.5 percent of men. That’s similar to the gender difference in use of conventional medicine, says Richard Nahin, of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The most popular alternative remedies were nonvitamin and nonmineral products such as fish oil, omega-3 and glucosamine. Use of mind-body therapies such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga has also climbed since the last such poll in 2002. The report, which uses data from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, also provides even more specific clues about the most likely consumers of these treatments: 50-somethings who have graduate degrees, are relatively well off financially, live in the West and have quit smoking.

That’s a pretty desirable demographic, and marketing for natural products and supplements often aims squarely at the common ailments and anxieties of women in that target group, especially hot flashes, memory problems and arthritis. But by the time they reach a certain age, women should have learned a few things—like being wary of claims for miracle cures.

Other red flags are phrases like “no side effects,” “cure-all” or “totally safe and natural.” Labeling a product as natural does not automatically mean it’s safe for everyone. Herbal and dietary supplements are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as food rather than drugs, so they don’t have to meet the same safety and efficacy standards as prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications. You should always tell your health-care provider about everything you are taking, because some alternative or herbal products can interfere with prescription medications. In recent years, more physicians have been encouraging their patients to use supplements when there is proof that they work. Your doctor is also likely to know the most effective dose for you.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “NEWSWEEK”

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