Alternative Medicine: You Asked, We Answered

This week ABC News asked viewers to submit their questions about alternative medicine. We chose a representative sample from the wide variety of questions received and then reached out to health-care specialists from around the country.

Some of the questions that we received are not included below because they should be answered by a personal physician or other qualified health provider.

Please remember that the following answers are for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site.

1) My husband was recently diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (grade 4). Do you know if toad venom has proven effective for this type of cancer/tumor? Are there any other types of alternative treatments that have proven effective? Thank you -- Lynn

Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D, director, Integrative Medicine Program, Departments of Behavioral and Palliative Care and Rehabilitation Medicine, MD Anderson Cancer Center, The University of Texas:

To my knowledge, I am not aware of any research to date supporting the use of Huachansu to treat GBM.

2) Is Liquid Zeolite, Blue Green Algae (enzyme enhanced), and Oxy-E safe to be taken with Herceptin or is safe at all to be taken. -- Andriene

Timothy C. Birdsall, N.D., vice president, Integrative Medicine, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Member, National Advisory Council for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health:

Dear Andriene,

Zeolite is actually a generic term, which refers to a family of aluminum-containing minerals, which are used in a variety of industrial and agricultural applications. In humans, liquid zeolite products have been claimed to help remove heavy metal toxins such as mercury from the body, although very little clinical research has been performed to document the effectiveness of this approach or whether this has any clinical benefit in cancer treatment.

Blue green algae falls into the category of what are often termed "superfoods," which are packed with nutrients, trace minerals and enzymes; however, the health claims of these products are often exaggerated. Oxy-E is one of a group of products currently being promoted to enhance oxygen levels within the tissues of the body. Many of these products contain fulvic acid or humic acid, naturally occurring constituents of soil.

At this point, I am unaware of any research showing that these types of products actually do what they claim, or that this approach has any clinical benefit in treating cancer. None of these products have been tested in combination with Herceptin, either to determine if they might interfere with Herceptin's effectiveness, or to demonstrate any potential benefit.

3) I have a dx of non small cell lung cancer, stage 1. I have received much encouragement to drink Essiac tea. I have researched this tea online but haven't received any other input. Would you please give me information that you might have on Essiac tea? -- Sue

Timothy C. Birdsall, N.D., vice president, Integrative Medicine, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Member, National Advisory Council for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health:

Dear Sue,

Essiac tea is usually made up of four different herbs: burdock root, slippery elm bark, sheep sorrel, and Turkish rhubarb, although some versions may also include one or more additional ingredients. It was originally used back in the 1920s and 1930s by Rene Caisse, a Canadian nurse, for the treatment of cancer and other chronic conditions ("Essiac" is her last name spelled backwards.) Recent laboratory studies have failed to find an anti-cancer effect of Essiac, and in one study, Essiac tea actually promoted the growth of breast cancer cells. In addition, a study published in November 2007 showed that Essiac may interfere with the metabolism of many drugs, including such chemotherapy drugs as Taxol, which is commonly used in treating lung cancer.

4) Is there an effective alternative (beyond medication)to control high blood pressure? -- Frank

Timothy C. Birdsall, N.D., vice president, Integrative Medicine, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Member, National Advisory Council for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health:

Dear Frank,

There have been many alternative approaches to controlling blood pressure, which have been shown in clinical research to be effective. These include: restricting excess sodium (salt) in the diet, a medically supervised program of aerobic exercise, and dietary supplements such as garlic and fish oil. Since high blood pressure is a potentially life-threatening condition, it is important that you check with your physician before starting any of these natural approaches.

5) I would like to know if hypnosis can cure depression-anxiety-anorexia? -- Adrian

Andrew Stoll, M.D., director, Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory, McLean Hospital:

At no time, should people choose to self-treat depression and should always consult with their treating clinician before starting or stopping a therapy. In regards to hypnosis and depression, there is no evidence that hypnotherapy helps depression. If someone really wants to try hypnotherapy for depression, I would restrict it to cases where the depression is only mild in severity and there is no suicidal ideation and no depression-induced dysfunction in work, school, and relationships. Individuals with moderate or severe depression should NOT use hypnotherapy as the sole or primary treatment of depression. There are many other treatments with proven efficacy in depression. Medications and/or psychotherapy (cognitive-behavioral and interpersonal forms) have the most evidence supporting their use. However, if an individual is against using antidepressant medication or conventional forms of psychotherapy, there is ample evidence showing antidepressant effects in mild-to-moderate depression for a whole range of alternative or "natural" treatments, such as St. John's wort, SAMe, omega-3 fatty acids, acupuncture, bright light therapy, etc.

6) What kinds of alternative medicines are there for endometriosis besides the ultimate solution: hysterectomies? -- D'Ann

Barrie Cassileth, Ph.D., chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center:

Hello D'Ann,

Acupuncture can relieve the pain and discomfort, but it will not affect the underlying problem itself. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbal formulas are quite effective, but not through over-the-counter products. Instead, the patient needs to be evaluated by a qualified practitioner who can customize the formula to the particular individual and her condition.

Many TCM doctors are trained to specialize in gyn problems (and in other specific areas of clinical practice as well). An early small study suggests that a pine bark extract is effective for endometriosis, but best bet is to find a well-trained expert. CLICK HERE to read more about the study.

For more information about herbs and other dietary supplements, try www.MSKCC.org/Aboutherbs.

7) To what extent do touching therapies (massage, reiki, polarity) reduce stress and to what extent does stress reduction help fight individuals fight cancer? -- Bill

Barrie Cassileth, Ph.D., chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center:

Good question, Bill. Massage and other touch therapies are soothing and relaxing. They can decrease pain, anxiety, fatigue and other problems. In reducing stress, such therapies help people get through the rigors of complete cancer treatment. In this indirect but important way they help patients' receive treatment and therefore combat the disease. Neither the therapies nor stress reduction directly destroys cancer cells or reduces tumor size.

8) What is the best way to go about getting info on alternative cancer treatments? There is a lot of garbage out there also. My son has a very rare cancer and now after traditional treatments, we are at the point of being "given time". Are there any real quality alternatives in this country? -- Knowles

Barrie Cassileth, Ph.D., chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center:

What a very difficult situation you are facing. You seem quite knowledgeable in pointing out the existence of the vast array of bogus cancer treatments out there. Unfortunately, there are no viable or useful "alternatives" to mainstream cancer treatments. Rare cancers are best managed in special settings, such as major cancer centers or at the National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/search/results.aspx

The Duke Cancer Center has a special NIH-supported program in rare cancers: http://www.dukehealth.org/HealthLibrary/HealthArticles/exploring_rare_cancers

Best of luck to you all.