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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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Chinese Medicine/Alternative Therapies
January 2000

Q. I've been hearing more and more about Chinese medicine and other alternative therapies. How do you provide your patients with information on these kinds of treatments, given the fact that many are not supported by insurance companies? Is their research available to justify these alternatives?

A. Chinese and other alternative therapies have indeed gained great popularity in recent years. Most of my patients come to me having already read about these alternatives through web pages or through the lay press. Unfortunately, most of these remedies have had very little scientific study, and so it is difficult to know how effective they truly are. For this reason insurance companies tend not to pay for these therapies.

Some treatments, however, have been shown to be effective. For example, acupuncture certainly does have its place and ginkgo biloba has been shown to be effective in certain circumstances (but one must be wary of overzealous claims). I know of no single source that universally provides excellent information on alternative therapies (this is not to say there is none, just that I have not found one). Indeed, I am concerned about many of the sources that are associated with those trying to sell the alternative therapy. It's possible that a person who is selling a product may not be truly impartial. I have a student who is currently working on a project related to heart disease and alternative therapies, and we hope to have a related Web page up sometime in 2000.

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