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Which Alternative Remedies Really Work? October 25, 2007

Posted by Dreamhealer in Alternative medicine.
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When Dr. Andrew Weil, the alternative medicine guru, hurt his knee, he skipped pain relievers and went straight to acupuncture, reports CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen in her online column Empowered Patient. “It worked,’’ said Dr. Weil. “My knee felt much better.’’

Acupuncture is one of five alternative therapies highlighted by Ms. Cohen in a recent column on unconventional remedies backed by science. The evidence for acupuncture to relieve knee pain goes beyond Dr. Weil’s personal endorsement. A study of nearly 600 knee pain sufferers, funded by the National Institutes of Health, showed that acupuncture improved both knee function and pain by 40 percent, compared to sham treatment resembling acupuncture and traditional care with pain drugs.

Ms. Cohen’s other picks are St. John’s wort for depression; a regimen of calcium, magnesium and vitamin B6 for PMS; glucosamine for joint pain; and guided imagery, a relaxation and breathing technique, for pain and anxiety.

The research on all of these remedies is mixed. St. John’s Wort, for instance, has been shown to help in mild to moderate cases, but not in severe depression. Anyone thinking about taking St. John’s wort should talk to a doctor, not just because depression is a serious health issue but also because the herb can interfere with other medications. The University of Maryland offers a comprehensive look at the history, uses, side effects and supporting research behind St. John’s wort.

Glucosamine appears to work best in people with more severe arthritis. Although a recent government-sponsored trial called GAIT didn’t find any overall benefit, glucosamine actually worked better than the pain-reliever Celebrex among a subgroup of patients with severe arthritis. The National Library of Medicine offers a generally positive assessment here.

For a video demo of guided imagery, check out this Web page at the University of Minnesota, and for more information about alternative therapies, I recommend visiting the Web site of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Ms. Cohen notes that 38 academic medical centers have joined together to form The Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine. For people interested in integrative medicine, which combines traditional treatment with so-called alternative therapies, the group’s Web site is a great resource. It lists all 38 members and their respective Web sites, as well as resources in the field of integrative medicine. And the University of Minnesota, a consortium member, offers advice for patients looking for a doctor who practices integrative medicine. ....

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