Having grown up on a dairy farm, I am one of the least likely people to object to the deification of yogurt. However, as a critical thinker, I cannot help but resist the idea (promoted by some health sites) that probiotics are a reasonable alternative to chemotherapy in the treatment of colon cancer. And there are many other equally unhelpful claims being made all the time. Fish oil for ALS anyone?

What amazes me about the “cherry yoga” camp (as my friend Bob Stern likes to call it), is that they aggressively market CAM as “harmless” and “natural.” They point to the warning labels and informed consents associated with science-based medicines as evidence that the alternative must be safer. In reality, many alternative practices are less effective, and can carry serious risks (usually undisclosed to the patient). For your interest, I’ve gathered some examples of risks associated with common alternative practices that have been described by the CDC and in the medical literature:

Colon cleansing: amebiasisruptured colon with pelvic  abscesses, Fournier’s gangrene

Herbal supplements: fulminant hepatic failure, bladder cancerarsenic poisoning, anticholinergic poisoninglead poisoning, severe hemorrhage, hepatic failure.

Acupuncturebilateral pneumothoraces (collapsed lungs) leading to death, transmission of hepatitis C

Chiropractic ManipulationsVertebral artery dissection and stroke, pediatric subarachnoid hemorrhage, paralysis, and misdiagnosed meningitis

Homeopathy – offered for malaria prophylaxis. All 5 contracted malaria.  Offered in lieu of standard of care treatment for melanoma (patient died), colloidal silver causes permanent skin disfigurement.

All CAM – can result in delay of effective care, thus worsening outcomes for cancer patients and others.

As you can see, all is not sweetness and light on the alternative medicine front. So next time your patient (or friend/loved one) expresses interest in CAM, please tell them to be careful. A full risk/benefit analysis is unlikely to be presented by the CAM practitioner or local GNC clerk. And while the CAM marketing engine cranks out endless images of tranquil yoga poses, the reality of potential liver failure, lead poisoning, strokes, paralysis, and gut infections are unlikely to be mentioned.


Posted by Val Jones

Val Jones , M.D., is the President and CEO of Better Health, PLLC, a health education company devoted to providing scientifically accurate health information to consumers. Most recently she was the Senior Medical Director of Revolution Health, a consumer health portal with over 120 million page views per month in its network. Prior to her work with Revolution Health, Dr. Jones served as the founding editor of Clinical Nutrition & Obesity, a peer-reviewed e-section of the online Medscape medical journal. Dr. Jones is also a consultant for Elsevier Science, ensuring the medical accuracy of First Consult, a decision support tool for physicians. Dr. Jones was the principal investigator of several clinical trials relating to sleep, diabetes and metabolism, and she won first place in the Peter Cyrus Rizzo III research competition. Dr. Jones is the author of the popular blog, “Dr. Val and the Voice of Reason,” which won The Best New Medical Blog award in 2007. Her cartoons have been featured at Medscape, the P&S Journal, and the Placebo Journal. She was inducted as a member of the National Press Club in Washington , DC in July, 2008. Dr. Jones has been quoted by various major media outlets, including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and the LA Times. She has been a guest on over 20 different radio shows, and was featured on CBS News.