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Is Alternative Medicine Safe or Effective?

  • Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
  • 2002 18 Mar
Is Alternative Medicine Safe or Effective?
One morning you wake up with a fever, sore throat, and chest congestion. Do you schedule a doctor visit for an exam and an antibiotic prescription, or do you make yourself a cup of tea with lemon and honey, then take some Echinacea and vitamin C? You injure your back while working in your yard. Are you more likely to seek help from a doctor, or call an acupuncture specialist or chiropractor? You feel tired most of the time, and barely have enough energy to complete your basic daily responsibilities. Do you go to a lab for a blood test, or try relaxation exercises to help you sleep better at night? The lump you had been hoping was benign is actually malignant. Do you schedule surgery, chemotherapy or radiation? Do you change your diet? Do you attend a healing service at a local church?

Many treatment options are available to you whenever you're sick or injured. Both conventional and alternative treatments can prove very helpful. But conventional treatments might be limited or unnecessarily invasive to your body, and alternative treatments might not be effective, or even safe. Finding the best path to take to healing means turning to God for guidance and thoroughly investigating your options before you decide.

Here are some principles to keep in mind when considering alternative medicine treatments:

  • Remember that alternative treatments - medical therapies not widely practiced by physicians and hospital staff - aren't necessarily bad, just different. Conventional medicine focuses primarily on treating the physical body, especially by trying to solve existing problems. Alternative medicine often emphasizes treating a patient's mind and spirit along with the body, and focuses a great deal on preventing health problems. Since God intended created our bodies, minds, and spirits to work together, it makes sense to take a holistic approach to healing. More and more, alternative treatments are being used alongside conventional treatments to treat patients as holistically as possible. Some alternative treatments have been used safely and effectively for centuries, but others are not reliable. Alternative treatments need to be scrutinized as carefully as conventional treatments to determine whether they're safe and effective.

  • Remember that your body is extremely valuable, and God wants you to take good care of it. Don't allow any medical treatment to change your body without first making sure it's wise to choose that particular treatment.

  • Gather as much information as you can about a particular alternative treatment. Don't pay much attention to anecdotal information about the treatment, as inspiring as those stories might be. Therapy results are different among different people, so you need to study the effects of a particular treatment option in many people's lives. Research objective data about the treatment. Results from randomized clinical trials have the most credibility. You can also consider uncontrolled trial results, observational studies, and case reports. Look for studies done by multiple researchers at well-known institutions that have been repeated and verified over time. Much of the data should be available through the Internet or your local library.

  • Beware of endorsements for particular alternative therapies. Do the people endorsing the products or services have genuine expertise in the medical field? Do they have a financial interest in the therapy's marketplace success?

  • Scrutinize claims made about the reliability of alternative treatments. If a treatment is touted as being a "cure all" for a long list of ailments, it's probably a fraud. Most reliable treatments are targeted to specific conditions. Also watch out for claims about "breakthrough" treatments, since it takes time to determine the true value of any therapy. Take the time to find out exactly how people promoting alternative treatments define the terms they use when proclaiming what they say are its benefits. For example, if they promise that a certain product will give you more energy, how much more energy will it give you, and in what specific ways will it do so? Anyone can get more energy simply by getting more sleep.

  • Consider whether it's wise for you to invest your limited time and money into pursuing a particular therapy. Evaluate the therapy's costs and benefits before making a decision.

  • Discover the spiritual nature behind any alternative therapy you're considering. Unfortunately, some alternative therapies ignore the Bible’s teachings and can expose you to harm by bringing you into contact with evil. Any time a therapy encourages you to look to a spiritual power not approved by God – such as by contacting fallen spirits through channeling or divination – you should avoid it at all costs. Also examine the spiritual base of other more therapies that can either be used for good or evil purposes, such as relaxation techniques (which would be fine if they involve meditating with the Holy Spirit’s help rather than trying to alter your consciousness). Rather than trying to manipulate your health, trust God with it. Remember that He cares and knows what’s best in your particular situation. Look to Him alone for healing.

  • If you decide to use an alternative medical treatment, let your doctor and pharmacist know, so you can ensure that it won’t interact negatively with conventional treatments you’re currently undergoing.

Adapted from Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook, copyright 2001 by Donal O'Mathuna, Ph.D. and Walt Larimore, M.D. Published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.zondervan.com, 1-800-727-3480.

Donal O'Mathuna, Ph.D., has his doctorate in medicinal chemistry (studying herbal remedies) from The Ohio State University and his masters in theology from Ashland Theological Seminary. He is currently professor of bioethics and chemistry at Mount Carmel College of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio, and a fellow of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity in Chicago. Walt Larrimore, M.D., is best known as the host of Ask the Family Doctor on The Health Network, where he hosted the world's first live birth on the Internet. He serves as vice president of Medical Outreach for Focus on the Family. He has coauthored and teaches The Saline Solution, a course offered through the Paul Tournier Institute of the Christian Medical Association that trains doctors to incorporate their faith into their practice.

Have you ever tried an alternative medical treatment for an illness or injury? If so, how did you decide to do so? Did the treatment prove safe and effective for you? Why do you think it's important to consider alternative treatments in addition to just conventional ones? Why do you think it's important to thoroughly investigate any medical treatment? Visit Crosswalk's forums to discuss this topic by clicking on the link below.

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