1. Discuss it with your doctor first. Most physicians are surprisingly open-minded about complementary therapies, our experts say. Always tell your doctor about herbs or supplements you’re taking because some interact with medications. Ask for evidence.
2. Testimonials are not enough. If you’re not sure whether something is legit, check it out on the site for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (nccam.nih.gov) or the National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus (nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus) or other evidence-based sites, such as mayoclinic.com. Beware of red flags.
3. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Remember that problems that have stumped medical science, like Alzheimer’s, are magnets for snake oil salesmen. Request references.
4. A legitimate practitioner will be able to offer references from at least two medical doctors and be willing to work with your physician. A good place to start your search: the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine (imconsortium.org).Choose herbs and supplements wisely.
5. The label should include a list of ingredients and an expiration or best-used-by date. Keep in mind that these products aren’t regulated as tightly as drugs; ones from developing countries sometimes contain heavy metals like lead, other herbs, or pharmaceuticals. Add a layer of protection by consulting consumerlab.com, which tests supplements for contamination and strength. Its website provides buying advice; $2.25 per month gives you access to all its reports. Understand the limits.
6. Complementary medicine should be just that—an addition to conventional care. It shouldn’t be a substitute for seeing your doctor.
Sources: Kathi Kemper, MD, chair of the complementary and integrative medicine department at Wake Forest School of Medicine; Evangeline Lausier, MD, director of clinical services at Duke Integrative Medicine; Mikhail Kogan, MD, medical director at George Washington University’s Center for Integrative Medicine in Washington, D.C.
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