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Alternative Treatment – Medically speaking

You’ve got arthritis? I know this really good sinseh who has cured hundreds of arthritic patients!? Surely this is not unfamiliar to people suffering from arthritis. From herbs prescribed by sinsehs to foot patches to homeopathy, alternative treatments have been around for as long as there is medicine. The question is, how safe and effective are they?

Rheumatologists stress that arthritis is not a disease that can be totally ?cured? and any person who tries to recommend you an arthritic medication or treatment with this pitch is not telling the truth. However, arthritis can be effectively controlled if patients are educated about their disease and take the necessary treatments for it.

But how can one know if a particular treatment is the right one? Surrounded by aggressive advertising strategies as well as advice from well-meaning friends and relatives, it is sometimes easy to buckle under the pressure. Thus, one has to be armed with the right knowledge so that he/she can make an informed choice.

Most products these days carry the tag of being ?natural? or preservative free. Although all products are naturally better in their natural states, it may not be necessarily so with certain herbs. Researchers often emphasise that many herbs are poisons in their own right, and making a medicinal or herbal product is not as simple as grabbing a few leaves and stuffing them into a capsule. Approved medications are sold only after many years of clinical trials and extensive research, something which traditional medicine lack.

Another worrying issue is that many traditional products are actually drugs which are disguised as alternatives. For instance, a study conducted at Universiti Malaya showed that many herbal concoctions contain steroids and one even had anti-diabetic drug, which misleads patients into thinking that they are opting for ?natural? therapies.

This raises the issue of content, as most alternative medicines are not sold in their natural state but have been added with dubious ingredients. Another important point to note is that many medications are being sold as ?food supplements? instead of medicines, simply because a product that is labeled as such will not be subjected to vigorous tests from the Food & Drug Administration like those which are conducted on drugs.

That is not to say that all herbal and traditional medicines are hocus-pocus. In fact, most medicines have their origins in plants; for instance, the aspirin and painkiller are made from the bark of the willow tree and colchicine, the drug for gout, is made of the colchicum autumnale plant. There are even herbal farms at Universiti Malaya, Universiti Putra Malaysia and MARDI, where continuous research is being done to uncover the secrets of local herbs.

The crux of the issue is that patients need to be careful when taking alternative medicines as they may cause unknown side effects or interact negatively with the medications that they are presently on. Always inform your doctor if you are taking alternative medicines, as they may interact negatively with the drugs the doctor intends to prescribe.

What about alternative treatment such as acupuncture? This therapy has been used in China for centuries and is now being accepted by Western countries as scientifically proven treatments. The question is whether they are being conducted by recognized practitioners who have received the proper training in their field.

To conclude, always remember that something that sounds too good to be true most probably is. Most diseases grow progressively over years in our bodies, thus any treatment which promises to, or is able to, get rid of the pain and symptoms almost immediately is cause for suspect.

Research the background of a treatment or practitioner carefully before deciding on your mode of treatment because one wrong choice may cost you more pain or even your life.

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