– Homeopathic treatments are highly controversial, yet…
– Half of all GPs are thought to provide access to unconventional medicines
– And there are 400 GP members of the Faculty of Homeopathy
GPs are the most likely of all doctors to want to fit in with patients’ agendas and beliefs, says Dr Michael Dixon, an NHS GP and chairman of the NHS Alliance, which campaigns to improve healthcare within the service.
‘But more and more, we are also recognising that conventional medicine doesn’t have all the answers,’ he adds. ‘It is great for diagnosing patients, but not always able to treat the problems it identifies
‘At our practice (in Cullompton, Devon) we refer patients for osteopathy, hypnosis, massage, acupuncture and reflexology. And we frequently recommend herbal remedies.
‘The main criticism levelled against alternative medicine is that it lacks evidence to support it, but some herbs have a lot of evidence to back them up. For example, St John’s Wort is well-proven to treat mild to medium depression, and peppermint has long been used and prescribed by GPs for bowel spasms.
Dr Sarah Brewer, a nutritionist and proponent of herbal medicine, says that herbs help the patient suffer fewer side-effects than you might get from drugs
Dr Sarah Brewer is a Guernsey-based GP and medical nutritionist. She’s been recommending herbal medicine since gaining a diploma in phytotherapy in 1998. She says:
My interest in herbal medicines was an adjunct to my passion for nutrition. In the early Nineties, while working in an extremely deprived part of Plymouth, I realised that many of my patients’ health problems – diabetes, obesity, lack of energy – were not being helped by their bad diets. I started prescribing vitamin supplements and saw their health perk up.
After doing a masters degree in nutritional medicine, I started recommending a change of diet before medicine whenever I thought it would help.
At least 40 per cent of the drugs doctors prescribe are originally derived from herbs – aspirin originates from an extract of willow bark. But when we use the whole plant, instead of just a small part of it, we get other ingredients, and these help the patient suffer fewer side-effects than you might get from drugs, because the dose of the active ingredient is lower than in conventional medicine.
Many doctors are sceptical about herbs, citing cases when something has gone wrong. But since 2011, regulations have been in place to ensure the safety of herbal medicines.
The Traditional Herbal Remedy (THR) label, for instance, shows the product contains the herbs it claims to, and has been assessed for quality and safety. These products also come with a patient-information leaflet.
GPs cannot prescribe herbal remedies on the NHS, but there are many I recommend. For example, black cohosh for menopausal hot flushes, feverfew for migraine, and the herbal remedy pelargonium to get rid of cold and flu symptoms within 24 hours.
But if someone needs treatment, such as antibiotics, for more serious conditions, I wouldn’t feel ethically comfortable suggesting anything other than conventional medication.
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St John’s Wort can be found in KarmaMood, available in two strengths, for mood enhancement
Feverfew can be found in MigraHerb, for the prevention of migraine headaches for people who have a doctor’s dagnosis for this condition
Pelargonium can be found in Kaloba, for the relief of common cold symptoms.
For more information and special prices visit www.schwabepharma.co.uk. Always read the label.