Does complementary and alternative medicine help or hurt?

Posted February 2nd, 2015 by Be The Match and filed in News
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You may have heard about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) during your treatment and recovery and wondered if it’s right for you. The answer? It depends.

From “all-natural” supplements and special diets to meditation, massage and more, CAM can take a lot of different forms. Some are generally safe, while others can hurt you. The risks are especially high when you have a weakened immune system, have graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) or are taking prescription medicines.

Before you try anything new, be sure to talk to your health care team, including your doctor, pharmacist and registered dietitian. They can help you decide if a new approach is safe or can harm you.

Does CAM work?

The answer is maybe. When used with your doctor’s recommended care and advice, some people report CAM helps them manage their symptoms, reduce stress and improve their sense of well-being. Other people report no benefit.

Is CAM safe?

CAM practices that are generally safe include those that promote relaxation, well-being and movement, like:

  • Meditation and prayer
  • Guided imagery
  • Massage
  • Art and music therapy
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi

Potentially dangerous practices include those that go against your health care provider’s advice, like:

  • Quitting or substituting a doctor-recommended medicine or treatment.
  • Starting vitamins, supplements or herbal products. They could make your prescription medicines not work, or increase the likelihood of dangerous side effects.
  • Using certain lotions or getting too much light or sun, which could make GVHD of the skin worse.

Use caution when considering self-care practices outside of those recommended by your health care provider, like:

  • Special diets. Certain foods or diets could actually be harmful. For example, even something that seems harmless, like grapefruit or grapefruit juice, can actually cause problems with some medicines.
  • Acupuncture. When not performed in the right way, acupuncture could cause harm, including infections and bleeding.
  • Special products or equipment, such as suspension exercise devices, which could be harmful for patients who have bone or joint problems from their disease or the transplant process.
  • Chiropractic care. While often safe, it can be harmful for patients whose disease has affected their bones or for those with weakened bones from the transplant process. Talk to your doctor before having any chiropractic care.

There are a number of credible organizations that offer online resources on safety, benefits and risk of CAM including:

Remember, no matter which CAM practices you’re considering, do your research first and talk with your health care team before you start.

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