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Alternatives to conventional medicine

Natural, alternative or complementary medicine, natural healing and naturopathy are all ways of treating patients that use natural substances or the body's intrinsic healing powers.

While they are not considered part of conventional medicine, some doctors use them in conjunction with standard protocols. And they are gaining in popularity and credibility.

This summer in Kentucky, for example, a new law took effect that requires acupuncturists to be licensed.

And a major study on complementary and alternative medicine funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is under way at the University of Kentucky.

But, as with any treatment, you should be careful in considering natural therapies.

NIH suggests

 Find out what scientific studies have been done on the safety and effectiveness of any natural therapy.

 Make decisions in consultation with a physician or other health care provider.

 Inform your primary health care provider so you can work together on a comprehensive treatment plan.

 If you use a therapy such as acupuncture, choose the practitioner with care.

On the Web

Many Web sites have information about natural health care. Here are some questions to ask when evaluating their information:

 Is the site run by government, a university, or a reputable medical or health-related association?

 Is it sponsored by a manufacturer selling products?

 Is the purpose of the site to educate the public, or to make money?

 Is the information based on scientific evidence with clear references? Or is it unattributed advice and opinions?