Complementary Health Approaches

Safety of Other Complementary Health Approaches

As with any treatment, it is important to consider safety before using complementary health approaches. Safety depends on the specific approach, and each complementary product or practice should be considered on its own.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Tai chi and qi gong are considered safe practices, and acupuncture has a good record of safety when performed correctly by a trained practitioner. However, safety concerns have been raised about some of the herbal products used in TCM. There have been reports of products being contaminated with drugs, toxins, or heavy metals, or not containing the listed ingredients.

Ayurvedic Medicine

There are concerns about the safety of ingredients in Ayurvedic products. Some ingredients have not been adequately tested to determine whether they are safe or to find out whether they might interact with conventional medicines. Some Ayurvedic products have been found to contain poisonous metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. A 2008 survey of Ayurvedic products purchased over the Internet and manufactured in either the United States or India found that one in five of them contained levels of metals greater than the acceptable daily intake.

Homeopathy

Highly diluted homeopathic remedies are generally safe. However, not all products sold or labeled as homeopathic are highly diluted. Some contain substantial amounts of active ingredients and therefore could cause side effects and drug interactions. There have been reports of harmful effects linked to homeopathic remedies—some apparently caused by the remedies themselves, and some caused by using homeopathic remedies in place of effective conventional treatment.

Naturopathy

Although naturopathy relies as much as possible on natural treatments, it’s important to remember that “natural” does not necessarily mean “safe.” Some approaches used in naturopathy, such as herbal supplements and restrictive or unconventional diets, have the potential to be harmful if not used under the direction of a well-trained practitioner. Naturopathy is not a complete substitute for conventional care. Relying exclusively on naturopathic treatments and avoiding conventional medical care may be harmful.

Make sure to tell your health care provider about any naturopathic treatments you’re using. It’s also important to make sure your naturopathic practitioner knows about all drugs and other conventional treatments you are receiving.