Feature Archive

Choosing an Alternative Remedy?

Better talk to your doctor first.

WebMD Feature

April 24, 2000 (Berkeley, Calif.) -- When Leslie Palmer was suffering from painful and debilitating stomach problems, she called a gastroenterologist and was told the earliest available appointment was two months away.

Frustrated by the long wait, Palmer (not her real name) visited an herbalist and got a prescription for herbs, which she diligently brewed into a tea and drank daily.

Two months later, when she finally met with the gastroenterologist, she told him that she felt a lot better since she'd started the herbs.

"The strange thing was, he totally ignored what I told him," she says. "He didn't ask where I got the herbs or who prescribed them. I might as well have said my symptoms were better because I'd been howling at the moon."

Such disinterest is all too common. It's one reason that many patients prefer not to tell their conventional doctors about the alternative medicines they're using. As more and more patients try these therapies, the risk of a clash with conventional medical treatments has researchers worried.

A 1997 study by David Eisenberg, MD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, found that almost half of all Americans use some form alternative medicine, but of these only a third told their physicians.

And a study published in the February 1 issue of Cancer shows just how little conventional doctors know about what their patients are doing. When researchers polled 50 men undergoing radiation treatment for prostate cancer, they were shocked to find more than a third were using alternative medicines -- the patients' doctors had estimated the number at around 4%.