Regardless of why you are choosing to use an alternative, the following guidelines will help you to do so safely and soundly.
First, if you are Catholic, this blog outlines moral and ethical guidelines on the use of alternatives in the treatment of any serious or contagious disease. Too many people cite the use of untested natural products as good because “God made nature” or “this is how God made our bodies”. This is true, but God also gave us the gift of science, which we are expected to use with faith and gratitude. This is why the Catechism states that “there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason.”
Second, go to the website(s) of the alternative you wish to use and look for any research that backs up their claims. If no research is found on the site, it probably doesn’t exist. In its place you will usually find “user testimonials” which are anecdotal statements made by users of the alternative attesting to the product’s success. NEVER RELY ON TESTIMONIALS AS EVIDENCE OF EFFICACY. They are notoriously unreliable (and are often written by the proponents themselves) because there are many reasons why people think an alternative worked for them when it really didn’t.
Third, iIf you do find research there are a few more questions you need to ask (most of the following information can be found on the first page of the study):
a) Who conducted the study? Was it a proponent of the alternative? (Indicates bias)
b) Who funded the study? Was it funded by a proponent of the alternative?
c) Was the study conducted on humans, animals, or in vitro (in a petri dish). Note: study results from tests conducted on animals and in vitro are not transferrable to humans.
d) How large was the cohort? If it was only conducted on a few dozen people, the sample size may not be large enough to draw any conclusions.
e) Was it published in a mainstream medical journal (not just an alternative or complementary medical journal)? This is important because mainstream publication provides the study with “peer review” from a wide range of scientists and gives them the opportunity to challenge or corroborate the results.
Fourth, never rely solely on the materials provided to you by a proponent of an alternative. Always corroborate these claims with independent sources. Good sites to search for this information and any indication of quackery would be Quackwatch or the Science Based Medicine Blog. If you’re checking into medical devices such as a ZYTO scan or a RIFE machine, the FDA Medical Device database is easy to use to check for information. Information on products used in place of drugs such as essential oils can be found here. Supplement safety information is available here. Medline Plus also provides a helpful list of herbs and supplements.
Fifth, check into the background of the founder or inventor of the product/treatment. Does he or she have a medical background from accredited medical institution or is their “degree” from naturopathic, homeopathic, or other non-science based entities?
Sixth, beware of articles you read on the internet that make extravagant claims about alternatives. Learn how to read these articles with a critical eye. Does it answer any of the questions asked in #2 or #3 above? And don’t forget to google the article to determine if it is found mainly on alternative or New Age-related sites rather than on reputable scientific sites.
Seventh, be careful how far you buy into the “Big Pharma is the enemy” conspiracy theory. These are mostly a construct of New Agers and are designed to fuel the use of alternatives which is one of the most lucrative areas of this movement.
Don’t be surprised if your research fails to grant credibility to whatever treatment you are investigating. Almost all alternatives in use today, including the most popular (homeopathy, Reiki, supplements, essential oils), have not withstood rigorous testing. This means that they have thus far failed to meet the same requirements that are demanded of the conventional drugs that users opt to replace with an alternative!
The savvy consumer should demand a level playing field. If conventional medicine requires strict testing to determine safety and efficacy, so should alternatives.
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