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Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

Updated: Apr 10

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) has steadily grown in popularity over the years. CAM treatments, particularly those marketed to families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and other developmental disabilities (DD) have simply exploded, many endorsed by celebrities or discussed on the national television outlets. In today's blog post, Dr. Ghilain provides the facts when it comes to CAM treatments, and discusses routes to support and optimizing skill growth that families can be sure will be worth every penny.


As the graphic indicates, there are many CAM practices that can be divided into different subgroups. Those that are "Complementary" are practices that are done in conjunction with traditional or allopathic medical practices (e.g., the addition of massage or meditation to a current medical regimen). Those that are "Alternative" are practices that do not conform to the standards of the medical community, and are typically not available in the allopathic (i.e. science-based, subject to scientific validation or efficacy) medical setting.


Though it would be challenging to summarize every available CAM treatment available, it is pretty easy to summarize the research support for these methods succinctly: adequate evidence is not yet available to support CAM for children with diverse DD beyond certain CAM treatments targeting pain and insomnia. Now, before I start receiving copious amounts of hate mail and emotionally-charged verbal exchanges, this does not mean that some families have not observed or experienced benefit from the use of these types of treatment. It also does not mean that CAM treatments will never demonstrate the research support necessary to validate their usefulness. In fact, there are many families with whom I have personally worked that found augmenting dietary patterns (e.g., removing sugar or processed foods), for example, were beneficial as a complementary intervention coupled with medication and behavioral supports for children with ASD or ADHD. Therefore, I am not saying that these therapies should not be sought out; I am simply saying that the scientific evidence to support their use is not yet there.


The moments when I become most frustrated by CAM treatments and the impetus for this blog post is when CAM treatments are sold to families as "miracle treatments" with "wondrous effects"- though they lack the scientific support to substantiate those claims. It is heartbreaking when a family comes into the practice saying they shelled out thousands and thousands of dollars for a treatment that "promised the world" and turned out to be an utter disappointment. Understandably, I am then the target of their frustration, and they rightfully ask how my work will be any different than the XYZ treatment they just found to be ineffective. Thankfully, I have the support of research, a strong evidence-base, and countless patients with whom I've previously worked to demonstrate to families that a neuropsychological evaluation is the best way to get the child the supports that he or she so desperately needs. One step further, the recommendations I make are firmly rooted in scientific evidence- they are programs that have demonstrated their efficacy under the scrutiny of peer-review and scientific rigor. Quite simply, I'd recommend them to my own family.


If you or a family member are considering CAM, empower yourself as a conscious consumer. Ask the questions directly to the provider about how they came to their conclusions they tout, what research or trials they can provide to substantiate their claims, the sources of funding for that research (e.g., is it a soda company funding research that happens to conclude that soda is healthy for you to drink?), and the qualifications of the provider delivering treatment. This last one is paramount. As discussed in a prior blog on conscious consumerism, do not just assume that because someone says they are an expert in something that they are trained properly. Do your homework, and the juice will then absolutely be worth the squeeze.


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