The Dangers of Alternative Medicine

ID-10087065It is obvious that cancer has an emotional toll on families, but what many of us often forget is that in most cases it can have a financial one as well. Cancer is one of the most expensive illnesses to treat. Even with health insurance people still end up paying thousands of dollars a year for treatment. However, when it comes to the life of a loved one, and in the case of Jose and Niasia Cotto, a son, money is no longer an issue. Towards the end of six year old Josia Cotto’s life, his parents asked him if he wanted to stop treatment and enjoy the time he had left, or keep on seeking treatment. Josia bravely chose to keep going. Filled with a new sense of hope, Josia’s parents decided to seek the help of Stanislaw Burzynski a man who claimed he could help. The only problem was Burzynski’s initial out of pocket charge of $25,000. The Cottos attempted to raise money in any means possible, starting Twitter, Facebook, and Blogger accounts and reaching out to anyone willing to help. The Cottos eventually managed to raise the money, and Josia quickly began treatment. Not much later, Josia died from high sodium levels. Josia’s parents were distraught and confused; they were unaware of the side effects of Burzynski’s treatment. Stanislaw Burzyniski opened Burzynski Clinic in 1977, and claims to use personalized cancer therapy. Since opening, Burzynski has not conducted proper clinical trials, has had a countless number of issues with the FDA, and has possibly caused the deaths of multiple people. Burzynski is just one of many who prey upon the vulnerability of those either suffering from, or seeing a loved one suffer from a terminal illness.  The Cotto’s story is tragic, and has received a lot of attention from the public; however, what most of us do not realize is that many Americans are undergoing the same type of treatment that the Cottos received, but on a less noticeable scale. Thousands of Americans a year play prey to companies that make promises they can’t exactly keep.

Alternative medicines such as dietary supplements or herbal remedies often claim to help people lose weight, retain memory, fight depression, and a wide number of other things. What many of us fail to realize is that alternative medicine is a business, and it isn’t as firmly regulated as we may think. Over 33 Billion dollars a year is generated from those who work in alternative medicine. They have strong lawyers and lobbyist in Washington, with the purpose of keeping their practice unregulated.

Most health professionals would advise patients to seek professional care before, or at least simultaneously with alternative medicines and treatments.  Herbal remedies have become much more popular within the past decade. Companies who manufacture and distribute these supplements have even claimed to be able to prevent illnesses that medical professionals cannot, illnesses such as Alzheimer’s or Dementia. One of the top ten most commonly used natural products, ginkgo biloba, has been said to revitalize memory and ward off illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. Between 2000 and 2008 a study conducted by multiple universities such as John Hopkins, and the University of California, gave older adults either ginko biloba, or a placebo. Both groups showed the same results of memory loss, and onset of Dementia, proving ginko biloba had no effect whatsoever.

Depression is a serious illness which in some cases can lead to suicide. St. John’s wort has been accredited by many natural and alternative medicine enthusiasts as being able to ward off depression. However, according to a study conducted over two years, and involving 200 patients, the remedy showed no differences in measurements of depression. The main problem with this case is that more traditional medicines for depression, such as antidepressants have been shown to provide results. So while some people are getting the help they need, others who have turned to alternative medicines may not be. This could lead to the death of those who fall prey to the glitz and glamour of these natural medicine companies and doctors. These are only two instances of natural medicines being unproven. Others are garlic for lowering cholesterol, saw palmetto being used to prevent prostate cancer, milk thistle to help with chronic hepatitis, etc. All of these remedies have also been proven to do nothing more than a placebo, or a sugar pill.

The reason most of these medicines do not work is mainly because they have undergone no clinical studies. A lack of clinical studies can also mean a lack of safety. Dietary supplements aren’t considered food, or medicine; therefore they do not need to follow strict regulations set by the FDA. Meaning they aren’t required to go through the three phases that normal medicines are required to. These phases ensure the safety of participants in the clinical trials, but also the safety of others who will take the medicine in the future. Clinical trials are used to determine how much doses people should take, side effects, and the validity of the drug. Many dietary supplements may cause liver problems, and could possibly lead to a liver transplant. This year there has been multiple cases of young healthy adults in Hawaii who have suffered liver failure, and in some cases extreme liver failure. The only relationship between these peoples’ cases is that they were all taking dietary supplements. This isn’t exactly surprising information, especially when looking at a study conducted in 2006 using the dietary supplement Lipokinetix. Seven patients were chosen to take Lipokinetix. After three months patients complained of tiredness, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. After seeking medical attention it appeared that all seven patients had suffered from severe liver damage. One patient even entered a coma, and possibly needed a new liver. This is just one of many studies that have shown the problems and hazards of dietary supplements. Dietary supplements often use the drug kava, which has been linked to liver problems. Due to the 1994 Dietary Supplements and Education Act, these companies can still release their harmful products as long as they do not label them as food, or a medicine.

Although the Cotto’s story is indeed tragic, we should realize that these things happen much more often than we think. Everyday people are deceived into buying a product that not only doesn’t help, but in some cases hurts. Although the FDA has attempted to close Burzynski’s clinic, he still continues his practice. The FDA should not put as much faith as they do in companies that profit off of their dietary supplements, herbal remedies, etc. A lack of regulation in the alternative medicine industry ultimately means a lack of safety for consumers, and more profit for manufacturers and distributors.



2 Comments to “The Dangers of Alternative Medicine”

  1. It’s another tragic case where corporate corruption seems inevitable. We can partly blame the uneducated citizens who are so rampant to purchase bad merchandise. As disheartening as Josia’s case was, you would expect the parents to at least do some background research on Stanislaw Burzynski, especially if he is an unlicensed professional. However, with that case aside, I agree with your statement that companies are taking advantage of terminally ill patients to make couple bucks off them. Nowadays it seems so easy to get away with selling faulty products to ignorant individuals. Of course companies don’t want to get their products FDA approved. For one, it would cost them serious dollars to run their medications through extensive trials, and also their products simply do not work so they would not be able to obtain a proper license to sell it.

    33 billion dollars made annually from the sells of alternative medicine? That’s pretty ridiculous, I would love to know the percentages of actual working alternative medicines versus the fake only used to make money medication. Anyhow, it would be pretty ignorant of me to fully discredit alternative medicine. I’m sure there are thousands of working remedies out there that do prove to be effective. It’s just cases like Burzynski who overshadow the hard working companies to produce faulty medications to pay for his new condo.

  2. I’ve had my own experiences with a particular type of alternative medicine-Chinese herbal tea. While I did not have any success with results for my specific ailment, my dad, who I had try as well suffers from severe arthritis did. For the past 5 years my dad has been unable to close his hands all the way into fists. It would barely close half-way in fact. But after 2 weeks of trying this herbal tea treatment, he was free of pain and actually able to make a fist. It was amazing. The only difference between these two forms is as mentioned, unfortunate that this idea has fallen into the hands of businesses looking to make a quick buck. Granted, it still was a tad bit expensive, but the product actually worked. I feel that legitimate forms of alternative medicine will be beneficial, if only our society wasn’t prided on money instead of actually trying to help and make a difference.

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