Saturday, October 15, 2005

How to be Safe with Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Our Home Page: Lymphedema People


During the past few months, there seems to have been an explosion of interest in using complementary and alternative medical treatments (CAM) for lymphedema. Unfortunately, there have also been those who are throwing out an extensive amount of links and info without any seeming concern about either the effectiveness of these treatments or of their safety.

We who have lymphedema face enough heartbreak and challenges without adding to them by further damaging our bodies with substances treatment concepts that have not been through clinical studies.

I can only urge my fellow lymphers not to be so desperate for help that you fall victim to and are further damaged by some of these methods and products.
There are many "things" you can take that will actually bring short term relief from edema, but what are the long term consequences?

Here are some tips on how to be safe the complementary and alternative medicine and questions to ask when considering any proposed product or treatment method.

General Considerations:

1.) Lymphedema is caused by damage to, removal of and/or malformation of your lymphatic system. There are no magic bullets, no quick fixes and at this point, no miracle cures. Unfortunately, this is the reality we have to live with and that has to be taken into consideration with any suggested treatment.

2.) It is extremely important to always take into consideration other medical conditions you have and how CAM treatments are going to effect that medical condition. This is especially important when considering supplements. For example, one buzz word now seems to be "lymph-detox." These products have combinations of many ingredients that are dangerous for those with heart, liver, lung and other disorders.

3.) Always look for independent (double-blind) clinical studies that test not only the treatment's effectiveness, but its safety. Be wise, never accept the claims for a product from either the manufacturer or the company that sells it. The reason is simple. Their focus is to persuade you to buy their product. An independent clinical study has only one main focus and that is to find the truth regarding a product's claims and they have no financial gain or loss involved with the product/treatment.

4.) Don't assume also, that just because there is a written article touting the benefits of a product that it is true. Also, don't assume that just because it is on the internet it is valid. Anyone can put together an article and that is why again independent clinical studies are so important.

5.) Find out the credentials of the person writing the article, who discovered the new wonder cure or who is suggesting it is going to help. What is the person's educational background? Have they had any medical training at all? What kind of license or certification do they have? Remember, anyone can put the letters Dr. in front of their name or claim to be a scientist who is in the know. What do they gain financially from the product?

6.) Find out what information is available about the potential benefits, risks and side effects. Check this out thoroughly. When surfing the internet use keywords like "dangers of," "risks involved with," "contraindications of." Often you have to use variations of word combinations to find the information you need on the internet. If you are considering a supplement, you may want to look up each ingredient individually.

7.) Look for buzz words or phrases: (1)

*The product is advertised as a quick and effective cure-all for a wide range of ailments.

*The advertisement includes undocumented case(s) [or testimonials] claiming amazing results.

*The product is advertised as available from only one source, and payment is required in advance.

*The promoter promises a no-risk "money-back guarantee". Be aware that many fly-by-night operators are not around to respond to your request for a refund.

8.) Always, keep all your doctors informed of what you do, are thinking of doing and always be sure you thoroughly discuss everything with them before undertaking any CAM treatment.

9.) It is imperative that you understand how any supplement, herb or ingredient is going to interact with other medications you are on. Your doctor can also help on this and you can also research this on the internet. Many supplements are simply dangerous when combined with other medications.

10.) Remember, it is your life and your health that is involved here. You are the one who may be injured or put in the hospital from using something, not the person who sold you the product, nor the ill-informed friend that suggested you use it. It is our personal responsibility to ourselves to be prudent and safe.


(1) Evaluating Alternative/Complementary Therapy Information: BC Cancer Agency.

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