Raul FreitasPortugal

Snake oil superiority

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Will the real snake oil peddlers, please stand up. This week’s topic of alternative medicines is another from the vast library of “us vs them” issues, in this case “modern vs traditional”.

A quick search revealed that when it comes to overseeing the sale of alternative medicinal products to the public, the western world, at least on the surface, Europe, Canada and US, all have their own guidelines in place. In the US, anyone who wishes to market claiming any kind of relief or cure must put their product through the same testing procedure as any other medicine, a lengthy and expensive procedure. The alternative is to put your product out as a dietary supplement and no claims of cures or relief may be placed on the label. In the EU, regulations vary from between member states, but the union does have minimal guidelines which include requiring manufacturers of alternative products to provide evidence of at least 30 years of traditional use, with at least fifteen of those years being inside the EU. These claims must also be printed on the labels. Canada has the Natural and Non-Prescription Health Products Directorate, which guides the eventual licensing of any natural health product to be sold to Canadians.

So, there are checks and balances in place, although, as we all know, there is much that can fall through the regulatory cracks. Natural health products are far from being treated as equals to modern pharmaceuticals by the scientific world, but they´re well on their way. Governments and scientists are warming up to the idea that cures can come from places other than laboratories and people in white coats, though pharmaceutical companies might continue to be reluctant to see an even greater reduction of their share of the pie. Heck, many of today’s most popular and efficacious drugs are based on discoveries made by ancient peoples from all over the world, but there’s big money involved too. Both camps are vying for the biggest piece. That’s the way it works. I’m not here to take sides, though modern medicines have the advantage because your doctor is largely going to recommend a modern pharmaceutical to cure your ill, over a natural one. Many doctors won’t even recognize any alternative to chemical drugs. As always, it’s up to us. The fact that a doctor prescribes a certain medicine to help you doesn’t mean you don’t need to look into said drug, weigh the facts and ask questions, the very same procedure one should take with alternative, or natural, remedies that are available. In my view and from personal experience, many doctors prescribe drugs without weighing the possible side effects or discussing them with their patients. Have you read the literature that accompanies your prescribed medicine? It’s enough to make you want to run. The choice to go in the direction of natural products is a good one, but being informed is the best way to stay safe and possibly cure your ill. As with everything in life, being informed is a most important step in making a decision to try alternative medicine. Regulation has its place, but it can’t replace our own research. Let’s remember that long before they were deemed “alternative”, traditional remedies were the only ones, so, the information is out there and, if it’s not, then stay away from it.

Fiquem bem.

Raul Freitas/MS

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