Complementary and Alternative Practices: Some Good, Some Bad
"Look Inside" Dr. Winnifred Cutler's essential book; an excerpt from Chapter 4 for readers.
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Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Hormones and Your Health: The Smart Woman's Guide to Hormonal and Alternative Therapies for Menopause
Excerpted pages 52-54
What woman doesn’t want to feel great every day? Who wants the discomfort of hot flashes, sleep disturbances, joint pains, and headaches? Those are just some of the symptoms most healthy women begin to experience after age forty. About half of women ages forty-two to fifty-five who do not use hormonal therapy acknowledge these symptoms. 44, 180, 572, 761 These physical disturbances follow the dramatic loss of progesterone and the volatile patterns of estrogen secretion that mark the seven-year transition from fertility to menopause. These “external” symptoms also signal changes within: declining bone mass, increasing risk factors for heart disease, and changing blood-sugar tolerance that can lead to diabetes and obesity.
Understandably, many women are driven to seek remedies, and many remedies are either in addition to, or instead of, help from their medical doctors.264 According to a recent study in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control, such complementary and alternative medical therapies were used by almost half of the women surveyed.394 Women who have also undergone a prior hysterectomy reported the highest number of symptoms (whether or not they also had their ovaries removed) and the highest use of these complementary practices.394, 572, 761
The Key Dangers of Complementary Practices
You need to assess your choice of remedy for its effectiveness and safety. Do your own research and don’t rely on an untrained salesperson as your adviser. (Reading this chapter counts as part of your research.) Many of the untested treatments that are available in health food or vitamin stores may have effects that render them just plain unsafe to use.20, 149, 575 Often, it’s the consumers’ perceptions about these products that can get you into trouble. Do you make any (or all) of the following assumptions?
- “If it’s herbal, it’s harmless.” Not so. Many of these plant-based remedies have measurable biological actions in the body. They can affect the function of your body, as any drug can.
- “It’s been sold for years, so it must be safe.” Consider kava and comfrey: they were sold for years but have been withdrawn from the market because they can cause liver failure. One manufacturer of herbal weight-loss products that contained Ephedra concealed thirteen thousand complaints of adverse effects, including heart palpitations and death.
- “If it’s herbal or plant-based, it’s more pure than pharmaceuticals.” Many traditional herbal medicines contain toxic amounts of lead and other metals. Others have even been adulterated with prescription drugs. Is the herbal product from China? The Chinese government executed the head of its food and drug oversight organization for fraud, so it may be a while before that nation has enough new laws in place to regulate safety
If you find such information alarming, you have a right to be alarmed. Any FDA-approved drug your doctor can prescribe is backed by at least two well-controlled studies that prove its effectiveness compared to a placebo and also monitor thousands of test subjects for each drug’s toxicity on the bone marrow, the kidneys, and the liver. No herbal remedy has ever been exposed to such scrutiny. Recent news about contamination, heavy metals (which oxidize and generate damaging free radicals), and the erroneous labeling of products is alarming and worth your serious consideration.
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