It's unlikely that Americans will lose their love affair with complementary medicine, so the best thing to do is to make the practice as safe as possible. In addition to talking with a healthcare professional about whatever herbs, homeopathy or therapies you may be using, follow these safety tips offered by complementary medicine experts:
Assess the likelihood of danger. A good way to assess a treatment is to consider its potential to cause harm. Breathing exercises are much less likely to cause damage than an intravenous therapy.
Look at how long an approach has been used. A 1,000-year-old practice such as acupuncture is more likely to be effective and safe than newer, faddier ones.
Watch out for vague language. If products or therapies are marketed with unspecific promises that they will "promote" or "support" health of a body part, this is a sure sign the claims are not FDA-approved and could be weak on evidence.
Watch out for overblown claims. If an alternative treatment sounds too good to be true -- offers a cure for cancer or Type 1 diabetes, for example -- then it probably is.
Are they experts? Watch out for professionals claiming to treat conditions outside of their field of expertise -- say, a chiropractor offering treatment for (again) diabetes.
Seek licensed professionals. They're more likely to know what they're doing. National associations provide names of licensed professionals in every area. Many states also have societies, such as the California Naturopathic Doctors Assn, www.calnd.org, that can send you in the right direction.