Natural or scientific: How do you choose what medicines to use?

Science and technology have ushered in some significant advances over the years, as innovations and discoveries continue to be made in a variety of areas. However, when it comes to making a choice about the medicines you put into your body, how do you choose between centuries-old natural remedies and modern science?

Some people are entirely for one side or another, but for others the choice may not be so clearly defined. Scientific evidence-based medicines definitely have their advantages in the world of modern medicine, but many people choose not to discount natural remedies that have been in existence for years.

Medicine use in Australia

The number of Australians making use of complementary and/or alternative medicines (CAM) seems to be on the rise throughout the country. A national population-based study from RMIT University indicated 68.9 per cent of participants had used at least one form of CAM therapy during the previous year, and 64 per cent of this group had visited a CAM practitioner in person.1 The same study also found complementary and/or alternative use tended to differ between individual states and territories, with New South Wales having the highest rate of use (72.1 per cent) and South Australia having the lowest (60.8 per cent).

Research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has also revealed the number of complementary health therapists, such as chiropractors, naturopaths and acupuncturists has grown. In 2006 a total of 8,600 people were employed within this field, a figure that was 80 per cent higher than the result in 1996.2

Overall, medicine use among Australians is very common and many people seem to be picking and choosing the best of both worlds. Another study published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) found 87.1 per cent of participants took one or more medicines, and 87.4 per cent used both conventional and complementary medicines.3

Choosing for yourself

There’s no doubt that a significant proportion of Australians are using both natural and scientific medicines, and there are several advantages to both. Natural remedies can be a great choice for people who are concerned about the side effects of science-based medicines. They have the advantage of being easier to understand, as their ingredients typically come from identifiable sources in nature.

This can provide much relief for people who prefer to know exactly what is going into their bodies. On the other hand, modern medicines will usually have undergone an extensive testing process and are the culmination of years of work based on hard evidence of effectiveness.

Making the best choice for you can be a daunting task. Asking for advice from sources you trust, such as your family doctor or homeopath, to try and get evidence from both sides of the debate. Do research on the ingredients behind your medicine; whether natural or science-based, this will help you find out details about their side effects, history and clinical results. It’s important to know what is going into your body, so doing as much research on your medicines as you can, will help increase your knowledge.

If you’d like to take a more complete approach to protecting the health of you and your loved ones, you may also want to think about protecting your family with a health insurance policy. Health insurance can cover you and your family for a variety of medical services, from hospital or extras-only to a combined policy that can be tailored for your needs. Extras cover can provide benefits for a range of services, including natural therapies like acupuncture, naturopathy, remedial massage, and non-PBS pharmaceuticals. Compare health insurance with Choosi to access a range of different products and find the level of cover that works for you.

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  1. Complementary and alternative medicine use in Australia : a national population-based study, PhD Thesis, School of Health Sciences, RMIT Research Repository
  2. Complementary Therapies, Australian Social Trends, 2008, Australian Bureau of Statistics
  3. A national census of medicines use: a 24-hour snapshot of Australians aged 50 years and older, Medical Journal of Australia

These articles are provided as reference material to allow more informed decision making, but are not intended as being a complete source of information on any topic. All readers should make their own independent analysis on the topic to make sure they have considered the aspects that are important to them.