Alternative and Complementary Medications

Guidelines for the use of alternative and complementary medications
Brought to you by The Alternative Medicine Committee, CHI Franciscan Health

The use of alternative and complementary medications and dietary supplements has become more popular in the United States in the last decade.

Alternative or complementary medications include medications, herbal remedies or supplements either taken as an alternative or in conjunction with over-the-counter and prescription medications. Over-the-counter and prescription medications are approved for safety and effectiveness by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA does NOT currently approve the safety and effectiveness of alternative or complementary medications.

This information has been developed by the Alternative Medicine Committee of CHI Franciscan Health to provide you with some guidelines on what alternative or complementary medications are, and "do's and dont's" for taking these medications.

Alternative or complementary medications include:

  • herbals - whole plants, teas, capsules, oils, tinctures
  • vitamin/mineral supplements
  • natural hormones or metabolic factors
  • enemas

The following guidelines can help:

Focus first on food and lifestyle choices

Talk to your pharmacist and health care provider about any supplements that you are taking or plan to take

Buy from a reputable company

Read labels carefully

Observe any effects the product has, both good and bad. Report any bad effects such as allergic reactions, stomach upset, or headache to your health care provider, and stop taking the product.

Read all you can about the product from dependable sources before using it.

Don't take alternative medication:
With known toxicity. Unsafe herbs include ephedra, comfrey, chaparral, and pennyroyal. Unsafe vitamins in high doses include iron, selenium, niacin, B6, Vitamin A, E, K, and D when taken in larger quantities than recommended

If you are already on a prescription or over-the-counter medication without first reviewing the possible interactions with your pharmacist or health care provider

On the advice of unqualified individuals

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, breastfeeding, over age 65 or under age 10, have an immune disorder, or have cancer or failure of any major organ, without careful review by several health care professionals.

This material is intended for informational use only. CHI Franciscan Health does not endorse the purchase or use of alternative medication. Consult your health care provider before using any alternative medications, and especially if you plan to use such products as part of your regular diet or as part of your plan of treatment for any known medical condition. If complications arise during your use of any alternative medications, see your physician immediately.

Arthritis and Alternative Medicine by Richard I. Rynes, MD

Sources you can count on
PDR for Herbal Medicines, 4th ed. Physicians Desk Reference, Inc., 2007.
ISBN 978-1-56363-678-3

Textbook of Natural Medicine, by Pizzorno. 3rd ed. Churchill Livingstone, 2006.
ISBN 978-0-443-07300-7

PDR for Nutritional Supplements, Physicians Desk Reference, Inc. 2008.
ISBN 978-1-56363-710-0

Mosby’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine: a Research-Based Approach, by Freeman. 3rd ed., 2009.
ISBN 978-0-323-05346-4

Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, by Micozzi. 4th ed. Saunders, 2011.
ISBN 978-1-4377-0577-5

Tyler's Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies, by Foster. 4th ed. Haworth Press, 1999.
ISBN 978-0-07890-0875-6

Web pages
Are you considering using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)?
MEDLINEplus: Dietary Supplements
MEDLINEplus: Drugs, Supplements, and Herbal Information