Do you use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)? Do you tell your doctor what you are using? If not, you could be at risk for dangerous interactions!
What exactly is complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)?
Complementary is defined as a treatment used in addition to conventional medicine.
Alternative is defined as a treatment used instead of conventional medicine.
What are some examples of CAM?
- herbs and vitamin supplements
- spiritual healing and prayer
- special diets
Multiple studies have shown that the most common types of CAM used in the United States involve taking a vitamin, dietary supplement, or an herb (Cheung, Wyman, Halcon, 2007, p. 1003).
Who uses CAM?!
Lots of people! Some studies have indicated that as many as 75% of people have used some form of CAM over the last year.
What’s the big deal? If this is all natural stuff, how could this hurt me?
Great question! Natural supplements and medicines definitely have their place in keeping us healthy and treating our ailments. BUT many patients don’t realize that their CAM use is significant to their conventional treatment they receive from their doctor, and unfortunately many doctors don’t think to ask what non-prescription items their patients are taking (Cheung, Wyman, & Halcon, 2007, p. 115).
Here are just a few examples of how taking natural products in conjunction with prescription treatment can hurt you:
- Some herbs can increase bleeding time, so taking a prescription anti-coagulant at the same time could case a life-threatening hemorrhage (Lindquist, Tracy, Savik, & Shigeaki, 2005, p. 63).
- Licorice is sometimes used to settle an upset stomach, but if you have high blood pressure, beware! Licorice can also raise your blood pressure (Jonas, 2001, p. 211).
- Many women use black cohosh to treat symptoms of menopause, but it also may “adversely affect hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast and ovarian cancers (Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 2005).
- Anti-oxidants are fantastic, but they don’t mix with some cancer treatments! Radiation therapy is used to intentionally damage DNA in cancer cells, but if you use anti-oxidants at the same time, the necessary damage can’t happen (Vapiwala, Mick, Hampshire, Metz, & DeNittis, 2006, p. 472).
How can I find out if the medicines I take can be taken with my natural supplements, vitamins, herbs, and treatments?
Talk to your doctor! Every time you go to your doctor, you should update him/her on the substances that you are taking into your body (including what you rub onto your skin!). Unfortunately not all conventional doctors are aware of possible interactions, so you should also tell your pharmacist when you go to fill a prescription.
You can also do some homework yourself. Check out these great (and reputable!) sources of information about natural medicine alternatives and potential interactions with conventional drugs:
- PDRHealth: search this database for information about drug interactions with herbs and supplements.
- National Cancer Institute: search this database for information about the compatibility of CAM and cancer treatments.
- Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: search this database for comprehensive information about natural medicine alternatives and potential interactions with conventional drugs.
Stay safe! Talk to your doctor and pharmacist and do your homework!
Cheung, C., Wyman, J., & Halcon, L. (2007, November). Use of complementary and alternative therapies in community-dwelling older adults. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 13(9), 997-1006. Retrieved May 18, 2009, doi:10.1089/acm.2007.0527
Jonas, W. (2001, September). Advising patients on the use of complementary and alternative medicine. Applied Psychophysiology & Biofeedback, 26(3), 205-214. Retrieved June 1, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.
Lindquist, R., Tracy, M., Savik, K., & Watanuki, S. (2005, April). Regional use of complementary and alternative therapies by critical care nurses. Critical Care Nurse, 25(2), 63-75. Retrieved May 18, 2009, from Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition database.
Vapiwala, N., Mick, R., Hampshire, M., Metz, J., & Denittis, A. (2006, November). Patient initation of complementary and alternative medical therapies (CAM) following cancer diagnosis. Cancer Journal, 12 (6), 467-474. Retrieved May 14, 2009, from Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition database.