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Healthy "Artful Living" Moment #29: Are "Natural Cures" Effective?

Posted on September 30 2018

The latest issue (November, 2018) of Consumer Reports has a major article reviewing the efficacy and safety of a variety of "natural" cures as alternatives to traditional health care. Since according to a Consumer Reports survey of over 1000 adults 33% say that they have used alternative treatments in the past year, and more than half of these indicate that they prefer such approaches over mainstream or conventional medicine, this is an important topic for careful review.

So, what does "science" say about these treatments? What evidence is there that they work? Here is a summary of the Consumer Reports article. If interested, I encourage you to read the entire article (pages 34-43). And, keep in mind, since the FDA does not oversee supplements, there is no guarantee that you are getting what it says you are getting on the label.

Acupuncture:      Some research shows that it works, especially for osteoarthritis, chronic headaches, and chronic back or neck pain. May even ease depression.

Apple Cider Vinegar:       Little scientific evidence to support its health claims

Berries:                Anthocyanin phytochemicals in berries act as anti-inflammatories and may provide other health benefits                                                

CBD:                    Cannabidiol (from marijuana or hemp) health claims ahead of the evidence that it works

Chelation:           Useful only for treating heavy metal poisoning and nothing else

Chiropractic:       Can reduce lower back pain and help with headaches and neck pain

Cupping:             Can be effective in short-term relief of chronic neck and lower back pain

Detoxes & Cleanses:        Not needed and can be dangerous

Ear Candling:      Ineffective and dangerous

Feverfew:            May reduce the frequency of migraines in certain patients

Garcinia Cambogia:         No evidence that it works and can be dangerous

Glucosamine & Chondroitin:        Work no better than a placebo

Green Coffee:    Larger and better designed studies are needed

Homeopathy:     Doesn't work

Iodine:                Extra iodine can't boost metabolism or speed weight loss

Jellyfish:             No independent research backs up Prevagen's claims

Kava:                  Dangerous

Kratom:               Could be as addictive as opioids

Light Therapy:    Proven treatment for seasonal affective disorder

Meditation:         May help lower blood pressure and ease anxiety, depression, insomnia and even irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis

Melatonin:          Can help with sleep problems stemming from jet lag or shift work

Neti Pots:           May help treat allergies, colds, and sinusitis

Omega-3:           Pills might provide some benefit to people with history of heart disease

Probiotics:          Some research shows that specific strains can help protect against antibiotic-related diarrhea

Qi Gong:             Might help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and with pain

Red Yeast Rice: Can sometimes lower cholesterol

Reiki:                  Little evidence that it works

Saw Palmetto:    No better than a placebo

Tai Chi:               Cuts the risk of falls in older adults, helps with chronic pain and may ease symptoms of dementia, depression, osteoarthritis and Parkinson's

Tea:                    Lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease

Turmeric:            Little evidence it works in humans

Vetiver Oil:          Has antifungal properties, may lessen anxiety and reduce nausea

Wild Yam:           Doesn't work

Xylitol:                 Cuts the risk of ear infection in healthy children from 30% to 22%

Yoga:                   Can relieve low back pain, reduce blood pressure and ease depression

Zinc:                     Can shorten the duration and severity of colds if taken within 24 hours of first symptoms


There you have Consumer Reports’ take on alternative, “natural” medicines and treatments. I respect and generally trust Consumer Reports, but one thing I have learned since starting these blogs on healthy living is that there are thousands of studies out there, with varying degrees of scientific validity, using different subjects, testing different hypotheses, utilizing different interventions. Therefore, I know that you can probably find a study somewhere that does not agree with Consumer Reports’ conclusions. I only share this with you as one additional, reasonably reliable set of data points.

But I, for one, am drinking more tea.






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