Alternative medicines & brain injury
People often turn to alternative
medicines as an answer to issues created by a brain injury.
Alternative medicine is exactly that:
an alternative to conventional medicine. It is also referred
to as 'complementary medicine' and 'alternative
While conventional medicine is supported by scientists and
a rigorous evidence-based approach, alternative medicine is
not endorsed in the same way. In some cases, these alternative
therapies have existed in other cultures for long periods of time.
There are other instances where a particular person will state an
alternative medicine works for various illnesses and develop a
People may try alternative medicines for various reasons,
- prescribed medications have no effect
- the side effects of prescribed medication outweigh the
- an aversion to drugs and preference for more natural
Many treatments once classed as alternative are now
mainstream e.g. putting moldy bread on wounds eventually led to the
discovery of the antibiotic penicillin. However, this does not
necessarily mean that all alternative medicines work. Of course,
not all prescription medications work either, but the research
should give a clear indication of how likely it is to work or have
Can alternative medicines be proven to
This is a common and at times fiery debate. Prescription
medicines have undergone a rigorous process to determine if they
will work, how likely they are to work and what the side effects
will be. In contrast, alternative medicines tend to rely more on
anecdotal evidence and claims that are tested to a much lesser
degree, if at all.
Generally if an alternative medicine works, eventually the
active compound will be found, isolated, tested then produced by
However, that still leaves alternative medicines where research
is lacking because the therapy is new and there simply has not been
time to accumulate reasonable evidence.
It is important to advise the therapist of any existing
contraindications (existing medical conditions that may affect the
therapy). Some therapies may be harmful if performed
under certain circumstances (e.g. massage when you have high blood
pressure; ingesting certain herbs when you're pregnant). This is
why it is also important to choose a therapist who is accredited in
their field - as they will understand what the particular
contraindications to their therapy are.
Some alternative medicines may interact quite badly with
prescription medicines. A good example of this is St John's Wort
(hypericum perforatum), a common and widely used herbal
antidepressant. It can have severe interactions with a wide range
of prescription medications, including antidepressants and the
contraceptive pill, and its usage should be discussed with your
Do your research
As with prescription medications, do your research. Alternative
medicines are not always regulated by the same legislative
controls, and there may not be minimum standards of qualification
required for the practitioners.
Do your own research on the topic (Google Scholar can be quite
useful here) and look for published research (in literary
journals), rather than generic webpages. See to evaluate them using
This approach asks four questions about the data supporting each
medicine practice, procedure, or therapy to help decide if they are
- Is the supporting evidence unbiased, performed by
knowledgeable researchers and published in a well-respected
journal? E.g. Internet claims that bee stings improve memory could
(significant difference/benefit) - Do the results outweigh the
risks? E.g. the bee sting medicine was "studied" in only two
patients, caused an allergic reaction in one, improved attention
span for only 30 minutes in the second person but they were in
- Is the treatment performed easily, available to most
people, medically possible, and cost-effective? E.g. is it
convenient for a person to transport their own bees around to sting
them three times a day?
- Does it do what it should, and for most people? E.g. the bee
sting approach should be tested across a broad range of
References and further information
- Brain Injury Resource Foundation: Alternative Medicine: An
- Evidence Based Medicine on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence-based_medicine
- Health Insite (Australian). http://www.healthinsite.gov.au/.
An Australian Government Initiative, Health Insite acts as a portal
to reliable health information, including a section on brain
- Media Doctor Australia: http://www.mediadoctor.org.au/.
Using the tagline "improving the accuracy of medical news
reporting", Media Doctor Australia examines medical reports in
mainstream news media, including daily papers, and ranks each
article as "Satisfactory" or "Not Satisfactory" on several
criteria. If you see a news item on a treatment that sounds good,
check here to see what the experts think about the story. You might
need to wait a week or so for the analysis to appear.
- Quackwatch (USA) - www.quackwatch.org.
Quackwatch is a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping people
without specialist education stay informed of fraudulent,
unsupported or manipulative health claims.
- National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Run by the National Institutes of Health, NCCAM is a resource for
current scientific evidence and medical thinking on complementary
and alternative medicines.
- National Council Against Health Fraud (USA) - http://www.ncahf.com/. Affiliated
with Quackwatch, the NCAHF has the same goal and adds to the wealth
of information available.
- World Health Organisation: Traditional Medicine: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs134/en/