Complementary and alternative medicines for sickle cell disease

PDF download is not available for Arabic and Urdu languages at this time. Please use the browser print function instead

Read about complementary and alternative therapies and how to use them safely to avoid side effects and interactions with your other sickle cell treatments.

Key points

  • Complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) are products or treatments that may be taken alongside, or instead of, your pharmacological treatments.
  • The main type of CAMs is natural health products, which include vitamins, minerals and supplements.
  • "Natural" does not always mean safe. A natural health product can have side effects or interact with your pharmacological medications.
  • Talk to your health-care team about all treatments you are using, including CAMs.
  • There is not enough evidence to recommend CAMs to treat sickle cell disease.

Complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) are products that can be taken along with, or instead of, pharmacological medications.

Natural health products (NHPs) are the main type of complementary and alternative medicine. They include:

  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • herbs or other plant materials
  • homeopathic medicines
  • Chinese and Ayurvedic (East Indian) medicines
  • supplements such as probiotics, amino acids and essential fatty acids

They may come in pill, capsule, powder or liquid form and be sold in grocery, health food or drug stores.

'Natural' does not always mean 'safe'

Many natural health products (NHPs) come from plant-based sources. However, ‘natural’ does not mean ‘safe’. For instance, some mushrooms and berries are natural but poisonous!

A natural health product may have side effects or interact with your other medications. In addition, some NHPs can actually cause harm. For example, the herbs kava and comfrey have been linked with severe liver damage.

Another reason NHPs are not recommended is that they are not as strictly regulated as some other medications. Researchers have found some safety issues with many types of common NHPs. For example, in some cases:

  • the bottle did not contain the ingredients listed on the label
  • the contents had very little of the active ingredient
  • the product was contaminated (tainted) with other chemical compounds

The current available evidence is not strong enough to recommend natural health products for sickle cell disease.

Talking to your health-care team about CAMs

You might think that your health-care provider doesn’t want you to try CAM therapies. Because of this, you might feel uncomfortable telling them about your plans to use CAMs. However, it's important that your health-care team knows about all the treatments you are using. This is to minimize the risk of unexpected side effects or interactions with your pharmacological medications or other standard sickle cell disease treatments.

What to do before trying a natural health product

  • Ask your health-care team before trying any new product. What works for someone else might not work for you.
  • Even if a natural health product might work, it's important to find out if it will be safe to take with your prescription or other over-the-counter medications.
  • Do your research. Find out if there is scientific evidence about the effectiveness of the treatment and any side effects. Get as much information as you can from independent sources, not just those providing the treatment.
  • Find out how much the treatment will cost and check if your insurance will cover it.


  • Always weigh the potential benefits and risks of the treatment (including the costs) before you decide to try it.
  • Beware of complementary and alternative medicine practitioners who say they can cure diseases that do not respond to standard medical treatment.
Last updated: September 25th 2023