Alternative medicine

The Health Risks of Supplements and Alternative Medicines

When she stopped taking the supplement at my suggestion, her liver tests gradually normalized and she felt better over the course of a few weeks.

I have seen the problem of green tea in patients before and have often witnessed the real pitfalls of shunning mainstream medicine, science and facts in favor of supplements, herbs and cleansers in the name of “natural” healing.

In an effort to be healthy, patients can easily be ensnared by the potential dangers of alternative medicine or homeopathy.

Let’s be clear: nature has a lot to offer patients.

Greek physician Hippocrates is said to have reported the use of St. John’s wort, a flowering plant, for mood disorders in the 5th century BC. Digoxin, a well-studied drug used to treat heart failure, is derived from the foxglove plant. Patients with Parkinson’s disease are often treated with the drug L-dopa, which comes from the plant Mucuna pruriens. Additionally, research repeatedly shows that eating fruits and vegetables, getting enough sleep and regular physical activity, and spending time outdoors have a myriad of health benefits.

But nature isn’t always so well-intentioned.

Spoiler alert: arsenic, cyanide, asbestos and snake venom come from nature. Refined sugar, a natural substance that lives in the pantries of most Americans, is largely responsible for our country’s obesity epidemic. Just because a substance comes from nature doesn’t mean it’s good for us.

An important key to health is to use nature appropriately.

And in the case of my patient, she was able to lose weight when we made a clear plan to change her basic human behaviors. Before she started taking the green tea extract, she skipped breakfast, drank the equivalent of two Venti coffees before noon, ate takeout for lunch, washed down her late-night dinner with two glasses of wine, slept restlessly and spent too much. time seated and indoors.

Green tea extract was never going to be the magic bullet she – and other patients I saw – had hoped for. It may be appealing as a natural remedy for excess body fat, but this promise has not been shown in all studies, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health of the National Institutes of Health. The key to helping my patient was pretty basic: looking at her lifestyle, her stress, and creating structure and accountability for major lifestyle changes.

Although she couldn’t eat like Gwyneth Paltrow would recommend (who can eat perfect meals on Pinterest like that as a mere mortal?), my patient took my advice to heart to start eating breakfast, packing healthy leftovers for lunch at work, cutting down on wine to weekends only, and exercising more on weekends.

As a result, she started sleeping better and feeling more energetic. Eventually, the weight also began to drop.

Some patients seem to be more receptive to the appeal of “naturopathic” medicine or homeopathy. Patients with vague symptoms that don’t fit in a box, for example, are often the ones who search the internet for answers to their health problems and spend hundreds of dollars on unproven and insufficiently regulated supplements and herbs.

My patients often consider herbal remedies to be free of side effects, but many “natural” products can cause toxicity and interact dangerously with prescription medications.

Last year, another patient came to me complaining of fatigue, joint pain and abdominal bloating. She had seen a naturopath for these symptoms, who told her she had “chronic” Lyme disease and gave her several rounds of antibiotics and a bag full of daily herbal supplements. She said she didn’t feel better.

When we met she told me she was sure she had Lyme disease which was not being adequately treated. In fact, the antibiotics he had been given had only worsened his abdominal problems and caused him a new problem: an intestinal infection that causes bad diarrhea.

After 10 days of proper antibiotic treatment, her diarrhea was gone but she was tired and sore again. At my recommendation, she stopped the supplements and her fatigue decreased somewhat.

When we discussed her situation in more detail, she revealed to me that she suffered from a love-hate relationship with sugar.

Like many of my patients, when she was stressed, she binged on sugar. For most people, ingesting sugar provides a quick hit of the pleasure hormone dopamine, and for some people, that rush of dopamine and the instant energy boost that comes with it can become addictive.

The problem is that a high sugar load causes the hormone insulin to rise, leading to a sudden drop in blood sugar, which can promote fatigue, weakness, and irritability, among other symptoms. If consumed in excess over time, this dietary sugar can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and joint pain. That’s probably what was causing my patient’s symptoms.

So we came up with a plan for her to not only reduce her sugar intake, but also fill her diet with healthy foods to stave off hunger and stave off binge eating. I also recommended that she work with a therapist to manage stress. Her joint pain disappeared and her energy improved after about two weeks, and she continues to see a therapist for stress eating issues.

Food – and extra support to use it properly – was the solution.

Symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, joint pain and irregular bowel movements are some of the most common complaints I see in my office. They can be difficult for doctors to understand, largely because they require careful and careful listening by the doctor.

Sometimes it takes time with the patient, careful attention to their story and asking the right questions to get to the bottom of the problem. Often the solution is right under our noses.

Nature is indeed wonderful, but it doesn’t always come in pill form.

Lucy McBride is an internist based in the District.