There are conflicting opinions among doctors regarding the use of alternative or complementary medicine. Many believe that alternative medicine has a place in everyday medical treatment, while others may condone it as they feel that it may bring about undesirable effects to the patient’s health.

Conventional medicine is built on evidence which is the result of the abundance of research and clinical trials that have been performed. In contrast, alternative medicine has not been scientifically research on and is mostly built on testimonies which are not considered scientific evidence. Although the use of certain alternative medicine has been shown to be useful in certain areas, much of its potency and effectiveness has yet to be proven. 

The issue with consuming alternative medicine

The fact that there has not been adequate research done on alternative medicine may mean that it is not safe for patient consumption. In conventional medicine, each drug has been researched on extensively, so we will know the maximum dosage for each drug and can make the necessary preparation to counter or lessen undesirable side effects.

The use of alternative medicine, however, has not been subjected to rigorous study. Therefore, any potentially harmful side effects or the extent to which it can interfere with current treatment cannot be determined thus far.

There is a misconception among the public that any product that is deemed as ‘natural’ is safer and healthier than those who are not. On the contrary, what is important is to know the safe dosage of each substance or product, which is currently not known in complementary medicine.

The principle of Primum non nocere (first, do no harm) should be applied to all practices, be it allopathy, traditional, complementary or alternative medicine. For example, cyanide, which can be found in apricot and plum trees and is considered a ‘natural’ product, can cause cyanide poisoning, which consequently leads to very severe effects.

Alternative medicine and empirical evidence

There has been growing interest among researchers in the use of alternative medicine to complement our current modern medicine. Therefore, many researchers have tried to implement alternative medicine in research and clinical settings. For example, honey, which is used in apitherapy has been proven to have antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Acupuncture which is one of the oldest traditional Chinese medicines has also been shown to have a positive result on lower back pain and can be used as an adjunct to conventional medicine. However, many trials and reviews reported a conflicting result on other benefits.

Despite many efforts to incorporate alternative or complementary medicine into the current health system, there are still various types of practices that are not supported by concrete medical evidence. Thus, a continuous effort and extensive research are needed before any of these medical practices can be safely applied.

Conventional medicines are not superior to alternative medicine, but it is well studied. We know the limit, risk and indication of it, ergo the term ‘evidence-based medicine’. The use of alternative medicine may cover a few areas which are neglected by our current conventional medicine. MIMS

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