What is Complementary Medicine?
The field of complementary and alternative medicine encompasses
a vast number of practices and systems of health care that, for
a variety of cultural, social, economic, or scientific reasons,
have not been adopted by conventional medicine.
Conventional medicine is sometimes referred to as allopathic medicine.
The term allopathy is derived from the Greek allo, meaning opposite,
and pathos, meaning suffering. In general, conventional medicine
tends to focus on the disease and employs techniques to oppose it.
For example, conventional medicine manages high blood pressure with
medications ("antihypertensives") that lower blood pressure; it
treats bacterial infections with drugs ("antibiotics") that kill
the invading organisms; and for lupus, it employs steroids and other
drugs to try to control the disease.
A number of alternative and complementary therapies operate via
this allopathic framework, including many of the biologic and pharmacologic
approaches to treating lupus and other disorders. Other methods
derive from distinctly different origins and reflect concepts of
health and disease that vary greatly from those of Western medicine.
Among such practices are Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbalism,
homeopathy, and naturopathy. Of those practices that have evolved
from other, non-Western cultural traditions, there is often no correspondence
with Western concepts of disease. For example, the notions of cancer
and infectious disease have no parallels in Traditional Chinese
Medicine, although the system can be used to treat such conditions.
Many complementary and alternative treatments involve difficult
changes in lifestyle or outlook. Some involve bad-tasting herbs
or even animal-based remedies. Conventional medicine is probably
better than most complementary and alternative treatments at achieving
quick fixes. However, complementary and alternative medicine is
worth exploring as a source of both new treatments and new perspectives
on health and disease, and for approaches to reinforcing the individual's
"life force", balance, and harmony with the environment.
As complementary medicine gains popularity, chronic pain may drive
many lupus sufferers to experiment with therapies, practices and
products that may be harmful, helpful or simply ineffective.
Keep the following points in mind before using
Your Doctor Still Knows Best
Form a partnership with your physician. Discuss both the risks
and benefits of therapies, as well as possible interactions with
your current medications. Never drop any part of your existing treatment
regime without discussing it first with your doctor.
Natural Isn't Necessarily Safer
Natural substances can contain powerful, potentially toxic chemicals.
Just because a product is labelled "natural" or is from a plant
source, it is not guaranteed to be safe. For people taking multiple
medications, the risks can be even greater. Mixing some herb-based
products with active ingredients may cause a host of unexpected
interactions and side effects. (see herb page
for more info.)
Herbal Supplements Are Virtually Unregulated
Unlike prescription and over-the-counter drugs, which must pass
rigorous, multi-phase testing to receive approval, herbal supplements
are not regulated. Manufacturers are not required to divulge the
full list of ingredients in these products. Therefore, people are
not fully aware of how much or even what substances they are consuming.
Some Chinese herbal preparations have been found to contain potent
Some Alternative Practitioners Are Licensed; Others Are Not
Some professional organisations certify and license their members.
Others are much less stringent. Licensed practitioners should be
willing to discuss their training and provide contact information
for any professional licensing organisation.
The More Pain You're In, the More You Want to Believe
Desperation can be a powerful motivator when it comes to trying
alternatives. Chronic pain can cloud judgement, putting people desperate
for relief at higher risk of trying questionable, even dangerous,
alternatives. Before taking or trying something, people with chronic
diseases should ask themselves if they would give the same thing
to their newborn child.
Some Points for Lupus Patients to Remember
There are no magic cures for lupus, despite what some adverts
might say, do not be conned into spending money on a product that
claims to be a 'cure-all'. If in doubt consult your doctor.
Some herbs are contraindicated when taking certain medications.
To take these herbal remedies whilst taking these medications can
be very dangerous. For more information see the herb
REMEMBER - always consult your physician before using any
non-prescription remedies, and never stop taking prescription drugs
without talking to your physician.