Alternative Medicine: You Asked, We Answered

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,

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