Interest in alternative medicine growing

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ST. PAUL, Minn. – More Americans are becoming interested in alternative medicine. And acceptance by mainstream health care providers is growing too – especially when certain therapies are used to complement more traditional forms of treatment.

Medical doctors now say they want more training in alternative therapies such as biofeedback, acupuncture, massage and herbal medicine. Some want to learn the techniques; others want to know what their patients are using so they can inform them of relative benefits and risks.

Four factors. Consumer interest in complementary and alternative medicine is driven by four factors, said Marilyn Adams Maiser, educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

They include:

* Disenchantment with mainstream medicine.

* Recognition that most diseases are chronic and few are ever cured.

* Consumer demand for options.

“Some people dislike or don’t tolerate drug therapy,” Maiser said. Others prefer to try less invasive treatments (for example, to avoid surgery).

* A need for a relationship, personal attention and interaction with caregivers. “People want to be known and cared about,” said Maiser, a regional health and nutrition educator at Waconia.

It’s very important to see your doctor before trying alternative therapies. “You absolutely need to talk to your doctor first,” Maiser said. “It’s especially important not to change or quit a medication until you have your doctor’s OK.”

Indicative of the growing acceptance of alternative medicines is the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Established by Congress in 1998, it’s an agency of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Its Web site, www.nccam.nih.gov, has information, including consumer advisories.

Not fool-proof. Alternative medicine is not a cure for everything, Maiser emphasizes. “If you require critical care, conventional medicine with its base of drugs, surgery, laboratory and imaging technology is the best system of care.”

Many illnesses and medical conditions cannot be treated effectively with alternative medicine. Always check with your doctor before trying alternative therapies or changing medications.

Other precautions if you’re considering using alternative therapies:

* Do your homework. Learn both the potential benefits and risks of a therapy.

* Talk to your doctor about what you’ve learned and what you’re considering.

* Avoid herbal and aroma therapies while pregnant.

* Fasting, enemas and some herbs are not suitable for kids.

* Adults should not fast for more than two days.

* Avoid high-dose nutrition supplements without professional supervision.

* Always consult a medical doctor if you have questions regarding your health.

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