Safety and effectiveness

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of natural and alternative remedies

Just because a product or practice is used by many people, or has been used for many years, doesn't mean that it's safe or effective.

Some practices, like meditation, have proven health benefits and little or no risk. Some may not be safe for certain people to use. And others simply don't work, or haven't yet been proven. That's why it's important to take certain precautions when using complementary or alternative care.

Using natural and alternative remedies safely

Tell your doctor before using any natural remedy.

Some alternative therapies can affect your current treatments, especially if you're taking medications. Some are especially dangerous to use if you have certain medical conditions, or can make your condition worse.

Even herbs and supplements that come from nature can have harmful effects. For example, the herbs kava and comfrey have been linked to serious liver damage.

Get traditional tests.

Once you have a diagnosis from your doctor, you can look into complementary or alternative care. By skipping traditional medicine altogether, you may treat the wrong condition, make it worse, and miss important, lifesaving information.

Do your research.

Although some complementary and alternative therapies are known to be safe and effective, others have not been proven. Before using any natural remedy, look for reliable information, including research by Kaiser Permanente and the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database®.

Is it safe?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate herbs or other supplements as it does prescription or over-the-counter drugs. This means that herbs and supplements do not have to meet the same standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing.

In fact, tests of some supplements have found differences between what's listed on the label and what's in the bottle. The product may not even contain the active ingredient it advertises. And some were found to be contaminated with metals, unlabeled prescription drugs, pesticides, microorganisms, or other substances.

To be sure you're getting safe products:

  • Look for a seal of approval before taking any herbs or supplements.
  • Check the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database for information on effectiveness, interactions, and possible side effects.
  • Talk to your doctor. Do not give any supplements to children, or take supplements if you are pregnant or nursing, without talking to your doctor first.

Does it work?

Everyone responds differently to medical treatments. That goes for natural remedies, too. How well a treatment works depends on many things, including your overall health, how the treatment is used, and whether you believe the treatment is helpful.

Do some research to find out which treatments and therapies have been effective for your health condition. Learn how to find reliable health information online.

If a treatment sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Reviewed by: Paul Millea, MD, October, 2015

© 2015 Kaiser Permanente

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