Some nonconventional medical treatments have no effect, some are harmful, and some are actually helpful. The Scientist magazine reports on recent research of scientists trying to figure out the evidence.
Some 40 percent of US adults have used nonconventional therapies, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and many large, mainstream medical institutions are now adopting holistic approaches that include aromatherapy, massage, yoga, reiki and meditation along with conventional treatments.
Here are some of the findings:
Recent research on the microbiome is showing how our microbial ecosystems impact out health, and scientists are learning more about how microbes interact with our bodies. So probiotics may be a promising for prevention and treatment of disease. The Cochrane Review reports some success with probiotics in treating antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children. Fecal transplants—giving gut microbes of healthy donors to patients suffering from C.—diff has shown some promise. There’s even some tantalizing research on how probiotics might impact some non-gut afflictions, such as tooth decay, allergies and mental health. Maria Marco of the University of California, Davis, notes one study in which probiotic treatment influenced the stress behavior of mice.
Richard Hammerschlag, emeritus dean of research at Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, reported at an NIH consensus conference, that evidence supports the use of acupuncture for post-operative dental pain, nausea from chemotherapy, and several other applications. The conference report was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Interestingly, researchers found that both acupuncture and faux acupuncture seemed to have beneficial effects. That creates what researchers call the "efficacy paradox," suggesting either that acupuncture has a powerful and reproducible placebo effect, or that inserting needles randomly has the same effect as inserting needles into some 400 acupuncture points that practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe unlock one’s qi, or life force.
The magazine also reported on the possible therapeutic benefits of marijuana and psychedelic drugs, although American research is complicated by drug laws that make it difficult for researchers to study possible effects. Mark Ware, McGill University neurologist and pain physician, laments that marijuana is being used legally an illegally all over the world and data is not being collected. "There is a kind of huge natural experiment going on right now and we’re not learning from it,” he told The Scientist. Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, reports that terminal cancer patients experienced long-term relief from anxiety after one treatment of psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient of "magic mushrooms.”
But natural and herbal doesn’t necessarily mean good. Arthur Grollman, a professor at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, notes that Aristolochia, a plant that grows in diverse environments, has been used in the traditional medicine of nearly every culture in the world. It’s a potent carcinogen that also promotes kidney failure. Read The Scientist.com article.