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Complementary Medicine

General Risks and Benefits of Complementary Medicine

Risks - Benefits

All treatments, whether conventional or alternative, have risks and benefits. In general, the risks and benefits of complementary therapies are as follows.


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Rejecting conventional medicine: Some practitioners of alternative therapies do not refer people to conventional doctors even when it is clear that conventional medicine could help. And some people who choose alternative medicine refuse to consider conventional medicine for any problem. This can be dangerous. It is best to get as much information as possible and then make informed decisions, selecting from both conventional and alternative approaches.

Too many options, not enough evidence: There are many different alternative treatments. Very few of them have been studied for safety and effectiveness using sound scientific methods. Herbal medicines and nutritional supplements are not regulated by the Health Protection Branch, Health Canada, as conventional medications are. It may be hard to get the facts, which can make it more difficult for you to make an informed decision.

Cost: Many health insurance companies do not yet cover the costs of alternative or complementary therapies. As with conventional medical treatments, you must decide whether an alternative therapy is working for you and is worth the time and money you must invest in it.


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Holistic approach: When you see your conventional doctor, your visit usually lasts only 10 to 15 minutes. People who provide alternative treatments often take 1 hour or more to find out all about your life--your family, friends, diet, activities, and work. Many health problems, especially chronic diseases, are more likely to respond to treatment when the whole person is taken into consideration.

Active listening and touch: For many people, to be listened to and touched in a caring way can be very healing. People who provide alternative treatments often spend more time listening to their patients. In some cases, alternative medicine practitioners include healing touch as part of the way they communicate with and treat patients.

Mind-body connection: Science has shown that people's emotional states can affect how healthy they are. See Mental Health Problems and Mind-Body Wellness. People who describe themselves as happy tend to be healthier than those who are unhappy. People who have a lot of stress in their lives are more likely to get sick. Conventional medicine does not have much to offer for these kinds of problems. Practices like meditation and tai chi can help ease stress and improve a person's sense of well-being, which may improve a person's physical health.

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