This article first appeared in Today's Dallas Woman, Nov. 1998

Alternative Medicine

Alternative or complimentary medicine, once considered the province of quacks and kooks, has been recently publicized and glorified by magazines and television shows as a way to stay healthy, fight disease and live to a ripe old age.

The media are not alone in jumping on the alternative health care bandwagon. Friends and relatives have probably told you about so called "miracle cures" and stories they have heard.

Despite the hype and seemingly impossible claims, alternative medicine is proving to be an invaluable tool for promoting and maintaining health. This is because alternative, complimentary or "natural" medicine has a simple premise. Instead of relying on artificial substances, which cause side effects, to heal a sick body, alternative medicine encourages techniques and products that stimulate the body's own natural immune system to promote health and vitality. These techniques can range from chiropractic care, to acupuncture, to herbal remedies, to massage therapy.

This "natural healing" premise, which had been eschewed by the traditional medical community for years, is beginning to receive cautious acceptance in that same community.

But just like traditional medicine could be practiced more than 300 years ago by almost anyone who called him or herself a "doctor," the alternative medical field today is attracting both qualified, caring people, and people who have little expertise. Almost anyone can claim to be an alternative health care specialist by stockpiling vitamins and aromatherapy oils and placing an ad in the yellow pages or local newspaper.

To add to the confusion, many of the products suggested by alternative health care specialists can be found almost anywhere - from the local convenience store to the health food store around the corner.

You don't need a prescription to obtain a bottle of zinc or vitamin C tablets. But people who overdose on these vitamins could find their immune systems seriously out of whack.

Deciding that "more is better" can be dangerous with herbal remedies, too. Even herbal remedies can produce serious side effects if they are taken in overly large quantities. And while many manufacturers are very reputable, the New England Journal of Medicine warned in a recent editorial that the ingredients in some products do not match the list on the label.

If your have doubts about whether an herbal remedy might help you, find a health care professional who is willing to discuss the possibility. Surveys indicate many physicians and other health practitioners are taking herbal remedies seriously these days.

Dr. Suzan J. Smith is a chiropractor in Carrollton, Texas. She teaches yoga classes on a regular basis and has released a yoga video for beginners and intermediates and one for pregnant women. She has appeared as a guest on Good Morning Texas, Good Day Dallas, and Positively Texas.

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