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Which Alternative Treatments Work?

Consumer Reports' Survey of 34,000 Readers Finds Hands-on Treatments Most Successful
Distribution Source : U.S. Newswire
Press Release
Date : Thursday, June 30, 2005
To: National Desk, Consumer and Health Reporters

YONKERS, N.Y., June 30 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Alternative medicine is no longer truly alternative. A Consumer Reports survey of more than 34,000 readers reveals that many people have tried it, and more and more doctors are recommending it.

Readers gave the highest marks to hands-on treatments, which worked better than conventional treatments for conditions such as back pain and arthritis. Chiropractic was ranked ahead of all conventional treatments, including prescription drugs, by readers with back pain. (Readers said it also provided relief for neck pain, but neck manipulation can be risky and is not recommended by CR.) Deep-tissue massage was found to be especially effective in treating osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. While readers suffering from back pain deemed acupuncture and acupressure less effective than chiropractic and massage, one-fourth of readers who had tried these therapies said they helped them feel much better. Of all the hands-on alternative therapies, acupuncture has the most scientific support.

Readers also reported good results for exercise, not only for conditions such as back pain, but also for allergies and other respiratory ills, anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, insomnia, and prostate problems. Those results are consistent with a broad range of clinical studies of treatments for all of these conditions except allergies and respiratory ailments.

On the other hand, well-known, heavily promoted herbal treatments such as echinacea, St. John's wort, saw palmetto, melatonin, and glucosamine and chondroitin didn't work as well for readers. Readers reported that alternative treatments were far less effective than prescription drugs for eight conditions: anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insomnia, prostate problems, and respiratory problems. Interpreting these results of the reader survey is somewhat difficult because the U.S. regulates alternative and conventional medicines differently. Federal laws ensure that a bottle of prescription or over-the-counter pills contains the amount and kind of medicine stated on the label, and dosages are standardized, but no such standards apply to dietary supplements. Moreover, there are no standard recommended dosages.
Treating symptoms of menopause

A separate Consumer Reports survey of 10,042 women who had gone through menopause or were experiencing it found that a large minority of women have turned from hormone replacement, which can be risky, to black cohosh, soy supplements, and vitamin E for relief from hot flashes. However, those alternatives were far less effective. Sixty percent of respondents who took estrogen plus progestin said it helped them feel much better, as did 53 percent of those who took estrogen by itself. The botanicals scored far lower. Black cohosh was typical. It helped 17 percent of women feel much better, but 51 percent said it did nothing at all. Some, but not all, studies have found that black cohosh is modestly helpful against hot flashes and night sweats. However, its long-term safety has not been studied. Most studies of soy supplements have suggested that they're not very helpful, and breast-cancer patients should talk with their doctor before taking large amounts of soy. For other supplements, studies show little or no evidence of benefit.




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