Health Editor’s Note: Dermatology is the branch of medicine that deals with the skin, nails, and hair. This medical specialty deals with both illnesses/diseases and with cosmetic issues. Complementary, alternative, or fringe medicine are all practices that claim to heal without using conventional, scientific-based methods. Basically, alternative therapies are not generally accepted as part of the science-based healthcare system, but contrary to beliefs, billions of dollars are spent by the U.S. government to test alternative medicine.
Complementary and alternative (CAM) medicine is a broad field which addresses the body health systems, modes of treatment, and practices that are, according to their users, associated with positive health outcomes. Alternative medicine includes a variety of practices, therapies, and products that are possibly biologically helpful, but have not been well tested with studies, etc.
Why does the medical world seem dubious of alternative practices? Alternative therapies are not the same as traditional medicine although alternative therapies can be used in traditional practice. It is easy to see how alternative medicine has grown in popularity and is used in some countries more than others. What was previously branded as quackery (a term deserved if the alternative practice does harm, or nothing, or keeps a person from seeking treatments that will help) is now being looked at as either additional treatments to conventional treatments or as best practices for some illnesses/diseases that do not respond to traditional medical practice, therapy, or drugs.
Of course, traditional and alternative medical practices can be used conjointly, if they do not conflict with each other. For instance, some drugs will react with herbals and cause unwanted side effects, such as prolonged bleeding or cause the original drug to be ineffective. This is why you should always let your primary care person know of any herbals or supplements that you might have added to your health regime.
It is immoral, unethical, and illegal to market alternative therapies as cures for cancer. To create a false sense that a non-plausible cancer treatment should be used, instead of proven, although highly unpleasant, methods which have proven successful depending on the stage and grade of the cancer when discovered, is criminal and will more often than not, become a death sentence for the cancer victim. Always investigate who will profit. It is not unusual to find that a “doctor” has invented a product and is extolling the virtues of it. Check to see what kind of “doctor” this is and what he or she has to gain.
When faced with a decision to use less invasive (although with no scientific hope of cure) methods of a cancer cure, it would be understandable to choose a “treatment” that will not be as invasive as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, etc. The false hopes of using, laetrile Essiac, herbal and dietary supplements, Entelev, shark cartilage, electrical devices, healers, etc. and there are so many more out there, instead of facing the side effects from current cancer-fighting protocols, has the potential to cause death without a real fight against the aggressor. Nothing should be offered as a “cure” for cancer unless it has been definitively proven to be a potential cure. Cancer “cures” outside the oncology realm are “get rich” schemes for those who invent/advertise them.
Before you decide to use an alternative method for illnesses/diseases be sure to investigate and evaluate all of your options. Your doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, etc. will be able to help you explore your options. Be proactive in creating a health team that will work for you. The medical world is not opposed to alternative treatments that will truly help you. Choose wisely.
Remember that genuine alternative methods have met criteria and are safe and effective, experimental alternative methods have a foundation to work and are being investigated, and all “questionable” alternatives lack scientific rationale and are unproven. Do not take the easy/less unpleasant way out at the cost of your health/life……Carol
Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Dermatology
Healthcare consumers are increasingly turning to complementary and alternative medicine, posing important challenges to dermatologists.
By Michael Broder, PhD
Reviewed by Roger S. Ho, MD, MS, MPH, FAAD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY
The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) such as herbal remedies and food supplements is increasingly common in the field of dermatology and appears to reflect a broad trend in medicine.1 Interest in CAM is sometimes driven by people seeking alternative ways to treat dermatologic conditions. “I find that many patients seek—or are at least curious about—alternative and complementary medicines,” said Peter A. Lio, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Northwestern University. “They seem to go this direction when diseases are not curable, our explanations are unsatisfying, or our treatments are felt to be unsafe or only symptomatic,” Dr. Lio added.
Understanding the motivations for CAM use and its prevalence in different populations may help dermatologists and other physicians navigate a changing landscape. According to the National Health Interview Survey, approximately 38% of adults in the United States used some form of CAM in 2007.1
Use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is on the rise in dermatology and appears to be part of a broader trend in medicine.
Some 8 million people with skin disease used CAM during a recent 5-year period, with some of the most common supplements being fish oil, glucosamine, glucosamine chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids.
People using CAM typically seek to treat chronic conditions rather than acute conditions, and herbal remedies are the type of CAM treatment used most commonly.
In a recent study, Landis and colleagues analyzed data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) to assess CAM use in dermatology and compare it to use in other specialties in the United States from 2006 to 2010.1 The NAMCS is conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. They found that approximately 8,150,000 people with skin disease used CAM in this study period, with some of the most common supplements being fish oil, glucosamine, glucosamine chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids.1
For skin disease and all other specialties, 56% of the people using CAM were women. People 50–79 years old used CAM more than those in other age groups. By race, white people were found to have used CAM 3 times as often as black people and Asians or Pacific Islanders. The overwhelming majority of those using CAM had access to healthcare via private insurance or Medicare.1
Among all the medical specialties assessed, the percentage of visits with use of CAM documented was highest for cardiology, both in terms of overall visits in that specialty (7.6%) and visits for skin disease in that specialty (12%). Internal medicine was the second highest in overall visits at 3.9%. In dermatology visits, CAM was documented in 1.2% of all visits and 1.3% of visits specifically for skin disease. Other specialties that reported high rates of CAM use during visits related to skin disease included oncology (6.3%) and ophthalmology (3.7%).1 Among CAM users with dermatologic conditions, dermatitis of unspecified cause was the most common diagnosis (9.1%), leading other diagnoses including actinic keratosis (8.0%) and unspecified disorders of the skin and subcutaneous tissues (4.6%).1
Among the top CAMs used in dermatology are a homeopathic remedy available by prescription and used to treat symptoms of contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, and psoriasis;1 a probiotic that includes Lactobacillus acidophilus and L. bulgaricus strains and shows promise for the symptomatic treatment of atopic dermatitis;1 a compound containing bilberry extract and lutein that may help ameliorate keratinocyte damage from exposure to ultraviolet A light;1 and an oil-based dietary supplement that contains omega-3 fatty acids and has been evaluated in clinical trials for the treatment of atopic dermatitis.1
Other recent studies have investigated patterns of CAM use for dermatologic conditions. Sivamani and colleagues, for example, compared use of CAM for skin complaints among people seeking care at dermatology clinics and among those visiting primary care clinics.2 They found that skin-related CAM use was similar in both settings.2 They also found that people who use CAM are typically seeking to treat chronic conditions rather than acute conditions, and that herbal remedies were the type of CAM treatment used most commonly.2
In a review of randomized controlled trials, Vieira and colleagues found evidence to support the use of some CAM interventions to treat atopic dermatitis. Promising strategies included acupuncture and acupressure, stress reduction techniques, mineral baths, herbal treatments, some botanical oils, oral evening primrose oil, vitamin D supplements, and topical vitamin B12.3
It is important for clinicians to respect the wishes of people in their care who request CAM while steering them toward medications that have been adequately studied. “The dermatologist faces a dilemma because it is difficult, if not impossible, for the clinician in a traditional medical practice also to be an expert in alternative medicine,” said Dr. Lio. “The category is enormous and contains entire systems of medicine, such as traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, naturopathy, homeopathy, and more.” Part of the solution may be to communicate appropriately with people in care. “We’re really listening, and we’re earnestly trying to help, and that is good medicine no matter which tradition one might follow,” Dr. Lio observed.
- Landis ET, Davis SA, Feldman SR, et al. Complementary and alternative medicine use in dermatology in the United States. J Altern Complement Med. 2014;5:392-398. doi: 10.1089/acm.2013.0327. Epub 2014 Feb 11.
- Sivamani RK, Morley JE, Rehal B, et al. Comparative prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine use among outpatients in dermatology and primary care clinics. JAMA Dermatol. 2014;150(12):1363-1365. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.2274.
- Vieira BL, Lim NR, Lohman ME, et al. Complementary and alternative medicine for atopic dermatitis: an evidence-based review. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2016;17:557-581. doi:10.1007/s40257-016-0209-1.