Side-effects of complementary and alternative medicine

Allergy. 2003 Aug;58(8):707-16. doi: 10.1034/j.1398-9995.2003.00219.x.


Complementary and alternative medicine are increasingly used to diagnose or treat allergic diseases, and numerous studies have reported benefits of this type of medicine. This article presents a review of the literature on risks of these methods. The potential sensitizing capacity of numerous herbal remedies may lead to allergic contact dermatitis and more rarely to IgE-mediated clinical symptoms. Mechanical injuries may be observed following acupuncture leading to pneumothorax, cardiac tamponade or spinal injury. Infectious complications after acupuncture include hepatitis and bacterial endocariditis. Organ toxicity has been observed associated with various herbal preparations involving the liver, kidneys, and the heart. Some herbs may have cancerogenic properties. Severe nutritional deficiencies can occur in infants and small children given strict alternative diets, resembling 'kwashiorkor'. Finally, among other miscellaneous adverse effects, adulteration with steroids, and herbal and drug interactions are discussed. The pattern of side-effects is similar to that observed by the use of conventional medicine. Therefore, caution may be justified using both conventional and unconventional methods. Only if the benefit is proven and the side-effects are established, should a given method be chosen.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy / adverse effects
  • Complementary Therapies / adverse effects*
  • Food Hypersensitivity / therapy
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / therapy*
  • Phytotherapy / adverse effects