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Safety and Complementary Therapies

 

Safety is a concern for complementary therapies. Unlike standard medical treatments, many complementary therapies are not regulated by the federal government and may not have quality controls.

Limited data on safety

All decisions about complementary therapy use should be made jointly with your health care provider. Few complementary therapies have been studied with the same scientific rigor as standard medicine. While some are safe, others should be avoided. For example, some therapies can [8-12]:

  • Interfere with the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • Increase surgical risks
  • Worsen treatment side effects

Some therapies are safe at lower doses, but harmful in higher amounts. Talking with your provider before using any complementary therapy may help avoid problems and ensure all the risks and benefits to your health are carefully considered.

Learn more about talking with your provider about complementary therapies.

Choosing dietary supplements

With dietary supplements, there’s no guarantee that what is on the label is what’s actually inside. Choosing supplements from known, reputable manufacturers may increase the likelihood that:

  • The ingredient list is accurate and complete
  • The dose and potency are listed correctly
  • The supplement is free of harmful contents, like pesticides and heavy metals (such as lead, arsenic or mercury)

One way to check that a manufacturer follows good practices in preparing supplements is the “USP verified” stamp on the label. For more on this, or to see if a supplement has been USP verified, visit the USP website.

Choosing a complementary therapy practitioner

Seeing a licensed practitioner isn’t a guarantee you’ll get good, safe care. However, a license to practice does show that a practitioner has passed the licensing requirements in his/her field.

Learn more about finding a complementary therapy practitioner.

Being an informed consumer

“Natural” vs. “safe”

Although the idea of "natural" products is appealing, "natural" does not mean "safe" (think about poison ivy and poisonous mushrooms). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has limited oversight on dietary supplements and does not regulate them as strictly as medications.

If the FDA has evidence that a “natural” product is harmful, it can pull the food or supplement from the market or issue a warning. To see if any safety alerts have been issued on a product, visit the FDA website. Before using any complementary therapy, check with your health care provider.

Wild claims

No complementary therapy can cure cancer. If a complementary therapy makes this type of claim, it is a sign that it is a scam. If you suspect a product or therapy is making a false claim that it prevents or cures cancer, check the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)'s Cancer Treatment Scams website for any consumer warnings. Your health care provider is also a good source for this information.  

Updated 06/24/14

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What are Complementary Therapies? 
 The Scientific Evidence Behind Complementary Therapies  next