Counseling Patients Who Are Considering Alternative Therapies

Complementary and alternative therapies are used by many people today. Millions of people, for example, use dietary supplements and herbal remedies. Because pharmacists deal with patients on a daily basis, they are in a unique position to counsel them about the use of alternative therapies.

Alternative therapies cover a wide range of treatments, some more effective than others. Whatever their efficacy, many people use them out of a belief that they work because they are trying to save money or because they are not happy with a conventional treatment.

The crucial point that pharmacists need to make to patients about alternative therapies is that there is as of yet no scientific evidence to prove that they work. No evidence has been produced to show they do what they purport to do, in contrast with conventional therapies which have been scientifically verified.

Patients need to understand that alternative therapies, such as herbal drugs and dietary supplements, have not been evaluated by the FDA or approved for safety and effectiveness.

Pharmacists should also explain to patients that many alternative therapies contain ingredients that have strong effects and may not be safe for everyone. They need to be careful about combining supplements. Taking supplements with other medications, or using them in place of conventional medication, could have harmful effects, possibly even life-threatening.

Pharmacists can also refer patients to a list of supplements compiled by the FDA that are known to be contaminated. The FDA has also published a fact sheet on dietary supplements.

Patients also need to know that some supplements can have adverse effects associated with surgery. One example of this is with garlic, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and vitamin E, all of which can cause bleeding.

Pharmacists should counsel patients to contact their physician as soon as possible if they experience any adverse effects from alternative therapies. The patients should also report the problem to the FDA.

When buying products like dietary supplements, people should look for the USP Verified Mark on the labels. This shows that the product has met the standards of the USP Dietary Supplement Verification Program.  

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