Jaclynne N. Reynolds
21 July 2021
Appeal to Alternative Medicine
Dear Representative Neguse,
The purpose of writing this letter is to urge you to support and reinstate bill HR 2736, previously introduced to the 112th Congress in 2011, referred to the Access to Medical Treatment Act. Provided by approval, this bill will allow individuals the right to be treated by licensed health care practitioners for the treatment of any medical condition using alternative, complementary, and integrative medicine traditionally unapproved by the FDA or the Secretary of Health and Human Services. This bill supports the integration of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for medical products and practices to be performed with the expectation of therapeutic gain and the standard of care provided by licensed professionals in a safe environment.
Alternative medicine commonly referred to as ‘natural medicine is defined as medical treatments and products that are used instead of the traditional methods and are not part of standard medical care. They are also known as complementary or integrative medicine. They include mind-body therapies such as meditation, biofeedback, hypnosis, yoga, tai chi, etc., biologically based practices such as vitamins and diet supplements, botanicals, etc., manipulative and body-based practices such as massage, reflexology, chiropractic therapy, etc., biofield therapy such as reiki and therapeutic touch and whole medical systems such as Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, and naturopathic medicine. There are various arguments for and against alternative and complementary medicines and this letter seeks to explore the issues surrounding these in-depth in order to encourage safe and responsible access to alternative approaches to medical treatment.
Alternative medicine, sometimes described as “natural medicines” are often overlooked as viable treatments because they have no guarantees of safety standards set for those who choose them. The wide variety of nutritional and botanical products including vitamins, herbs, and dietary supplements can potentially pose a health risk to consumers, as they may not be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services or the FDA. The readily available products are sold to consumers without a prescription meaning the individual buying them needs to know what’s best for them (“The Problem with Alternative Medicine”). Some natural products contain harmful substances that the consumer may not be aware of e.g. some Ayurvedic products contain naturally occurring toxins, such as mercury or lead. Opponents to the use of alternative medical treatments cite the history of misinformation surrounding the use of these products, including the lack of regulation of many alternative or natural remedies, that can if consumed, result in adverse events such as poisoning and even death. In particular, some herbal supplements are harmful when taken in large quantities, frequently or along with other substances e.g. studies done have shown that the herb Kava commonly used for relieving anxiety and stress can result in damage to the liver. St. John used for depression can result in reduced effectiveness of some cancer drugs.
Without regulation, it is difficult for companies to ensure the consistency levels of purity and potency of alternative medicines. Some companies do conduct testing on their products, which can be used to reduce the risk of harm to consumers. Another disadvantage of herbal medicine is the risk of causing yourself harm through self-dosing with herbs. While you can argue that misuse of alternative medicines and herbal supplements can also occur with prescribed medications.
Harvesting herbs in the wild is risky, if not foolhardy, yet some people try to identify and pick wild herbs. They run a very real risk of poisoning themselves if they don’t correctly identify the herb, or if they use the wrong part of the plant (Evidence). Because herbal products are not tightly regulated, consumers also run the risk of buying inferior quality herbs. The quality of herbal products may vary among batches, brands, or manufacturers. This can make it much more difficult to prescribe the proper dose of an herb.
Patients need to be very aware and conscious of whom they seek alternative treatment methods from e.g. acupuncture should be sought from a well-trained practitioner. Patients with a bleeding disorder may be at a higher risk of complications if they have a bleeding disorder or are using blood thinners, they can increase the loss of blood. Patients with a pacemaker should avoid electro puncture (Soren). Pregnant patients should alert their practitioner as some puncture locations have been reported to stimulate labor. All patients should alert their acupuncture practitioner of any chronic illnesses and all prescribed.
In the United States, supplements and herbal medicine are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This results in inconsistency and uncertainty of the additives in the products. Supplements interact with different bodies differently, they cause variation in the absorption and efficacy of other drugs as a result of interaction with enzymes in the body. St. John’s Wort is a Cytochrome that increases metabolism and decreases other medications’ efficacy including antibiotics, anti-viral, and other medications predominately metabolized by the liver.
Many pharmaceutical drugs use purified botanical agents and are under strict regulation by the government for potency and clarity purposes and can be used as an alternative to herbal supplements. Careful consideration of side effect profiles for any treatment modality should be taken prior to recommendation. Yoga and tai chi are considered low-impact and safe exercise modalities. There is risk of injury in any physical activity. Proper techniques should be administered by certified instructors and the practice should be slowly implemented to allow the body to accommodate the changes. Extrinsic manipulation of any kind should be performed by a trained and licensed practitioner. High-Velocity Low-Amplitude (HVLA) manipulation places patients at highest risk for injury.
Alternative treatments have no safety record e.g. approximately 25% of hospital admissions are due to iatrogenic reasons which are caused by medical procedures and treatments. The death rate has doubled between 1983-1993 in the United States as a result of medication errors. Recent studies also indicate that more than 150,000 people die daily as a result of medical treatment procedures. Unlike modern medicine which has huge funding for research and development, alternative medicine has no funds available for research.
Another criticism of alternative treatment is the occasional sensationalism in reporting the merits of a particular approach. For example, there are books about certain dietary approaches that claim to cure a whole host of ailments (M). The same types of claims are sometimes made about particular supplements. Delaying surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or other traditional treatment by using an alternative therapy can allow cancer to grow and spread to other parts of the body.
Certain vitamins and minerals can increase the risk of cancer or other illnesses, especially if too much is taken. Some companies don’t follow Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules about making claims and labeling supplements properly. In some cases, harmful contaminants can get into dietary supplements because of how they are manufactured or handled (Fine, and Alderman). Treatments that claim to offer benefits with no side effects. Even herbs and vitamins have possible side effects. If the treatment is marketed as having no side effects, it has likely not been studied in rigorous clinical trials, where side effects would be seen.
It’s easy to confuse natural and safe. They are not synonymous despite marketers making us believe so. Many dietary supplements and herbal remedies, both of which fall under the alternative medicine umbrella, are mislabeled as “natural.” A red flag should also go up if a manufacturer makes unrealistic claims that their products are “miracle cures” or have “secret ingredients.” Even in cases when the product contains no artificial substances, supplements and herbs can still potentially interact with prescription and over-the-counter medication. And some of these natural products have side effects of their own.
Consumers should also beware of treatments they can get in only one clinic, especially if that clinic is in a country with less strict patient protection laws than those in the United States, the United Kingdom (UK) or the European Union (EU). Clients should also beware of terms such as “scientific breakthrough,” “miracle cure,” “secret ingredient,” or “ancient remedy.” Beware of personal stories that claim amazing results but provide no actual scientific evidence. It’s also important to be suspicious of any treatment that says it can cure cancer or other difficult-to-treat diseases (such as chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, etc.). It’s important to remember that those claims have not been proven.
“The Problem With Alternative Medicine”. Psychology Today, 2021, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-in-world/201009/the-problem-alternative-medicine.
Fine, Neil, and Lesley Alderman. Alternative Medicine. Time Home Entertainment Inc., 2012.
“H.R. 2736 — 112th Congress: Access to Medical Treatment Act.” www.GovTrack.us. 2011. July 22, 2021
M, Rajajeyakumar. “Alternative & Integrative Medicine”. Alternative & Integrative Medicine, vol 07, no. 02, 2018. OMICS Publishing Group, doi:10.4172/2327-5162.1000e121.
Soren, Ventegodt MD. “Evidence-Based Medicine: Alternative Medicine [Non-Drug Medicine, CAM] Versus Pharmacological Medicine”. Alternative & Integrative Medicine, vol 04, no. 01, 2015. OMICS Publishing Group, doi:10.4172/2327-5162.1000e116.
Evidence, Modern. “Modern Medicine Vs. Alternative Medicine: Different Levels Of Evidence”. Policy & Medicine, 2021, https://www.policymed.com/2011/08/modern-medicine-vs-alternative-medicine-different-levels-of-evidence.html.
Jaclynne N. Reynolds