The official journal of the American Academy of Family Practice, American Family Physician or AFP, began the new year with series of articles on the subject of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). In an introductory editorial, they explained that between 21 and 50% of patients use alternative therapies and half of those patients do not tell their doctors.
The editor of the journal concluded that many doctors are uninformed about these practices so they have begun an educational update for physicians. It also provides a wonderful opportunity for patients to learn what the latest research is saying about their effectiveness and their safety.
Because this is the cold season, the first remedy reviewed was echinacea. The purple coneflower or echinacea has been recommended to prevent or shorten the common cold. After reviewing the literature, the authors concluded that echinacea "does not have a significant impact of the frequency, severity, or duration" of colds. It does have a mild positive effect on treating colds.
The article explained that since the herb has no adverse interactions with other drugs and it has
been shown to be extremely safe, doctors can feel comfortable if their patients choose to use this herb.
The use of alternative therapies for osteoarthritis is much more complicated. In the second article of the series, the authors concluded that while glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate appear to reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis, they do not seem to regenerate cartilage or slow the disease process.
Another remedy that was given a positive review is SAMe. They noted that while many of the studies are flawed, there is evidence that this compound may be as effective in reducing symptoms as NSAIDS such as Motrin or Advil. They warned that the cost of this remedy is very high and, since it is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it may not be covered by insurance. Side effects include gastrointestinal problems and diarrhea.
The article gave two thumbs down to other therapies used to treat osteoarthritis such as ginger, boron, and DMSO. Two other non-drug therapies got mixed reviews. Authors warned that while acupuncture may give relief to some, serious infections such as hepatitis have occurred because of unsterilized needles. Experiments with electromagnetism for osteoarthritis of the knee have shown some promise in reducing symptoms.
You can (click here) to go to the web site of American Family Physician for more details about their findings and you can be sure that we will continue to bring you the most accurate information on complementary and alternative medicines so that you can make informed decisions about your health care.