Pat Kennedy: Open up about alternative medicine |

Pat Kennedy: Open up about alternative medicine

Pat Kennedy

In June, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health launched a campaign called “Time To Talk” to encourage both patients and health care providers to discuss the use of complementary and alternative treatments (CAM).

The concern behind the campaign is that up to 60 percent of people living with multiple sclerosis use some form of complementary and alternative treatments, but only one-third report it to their health care providers.

Because many forms of alternative treatments interact with conventional treatments, the health care provider, not knowing what is being used, could make recommendations for medications that could cause harm to the patient. Part of the problem is that patients don’t think of alternative treatments as being relevant to a prescription therapy. There is also a concern among patients that telling their physician may lead to criticism. Part of the “It’s Time To Talk” campaign is to inform health care providers about their role in CAM.

When you go to an appointment with any of your health care providers, be sure to take a list of all medications, supplements, herbs and over-the-counter medications you use. You also could take the containers of each of your medications and supplements for your provider to see. That way, he can read the labels for content.

Ideally, it would be best to ask your provider about various CAM therapies before you start them. You need to know about safety, evidence of effectiveness and possible interactions. If your provider is not informed, seek your own answers. Resources include Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis by Allen Bowling, MD, Ph.D. from Demos Medical Publishing and

General recommendations when considering a complementary or alternative therapy:

” Evaluate the content of the information you have. Does it report any scientific review of its effectiveness?

” Be suspicious of claims of “cure” or “new discovery” that are advertised by someone other than a reliable source such as the National MS Society or panels of MS experts.

” If it sounds too good to be true, it generally is. There is no conspiracy out there to keep “the good stuff” on the back shelf.

” If a product is advertised as natural, it is not necessarily safe. Many natural products can be toxic or lethal.

” Over-the-counter medications are not always safe. Usually they are if taken in the correct dosage recommended, but too many people take more than what is advise,d which can cause major problems with toxicity and interactions. A good example is acetaminophen, which has potential for liver toxicity, especially when mixed with other products that also do. Acetaminophen is used in many over-the-counter treatments such as cold products, sleep aids, and allergy treatments. Read labels carefully.

Join the “Time To Talk” campaign and discuss your CAM use with your providers. Visit for more information about The Heuga Center’s health and wellness for program for people and families living with MS.

Pat Kennedy is a nurse educator for The Heuga Center. This column was first published as a blog on To read more blogs, log onto and click on “blogs”. Interested in becoming a blogger on Contact Community Editor Lauren Glendenning at

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