Natural Disasters; Don't Let the; Quacks Cause You Problems with Alternative Medicine

By Mallon, Margaret | Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), April 8, 1998 | Go to article overview

Natural Disasters; Don't Let the; Quacks Cause You Problems with Alternative Medicine


Mallon, Margaret, Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)


The problem with alternative medicines is that , if they are natural, people believe they are also totally harmless.

But herbs, tinctures and oils can poison as well as cure.

And there have been cases where patients, in the hands of incompetent practitioners, have been paralysed and even killed by alternative therapies.

Because New Age and revived traditional treatments are growing in popularity, we HAVE to be more aware of their side-effects.

Consumption of alternative remedies is rising faster in Britain than in any other European country. Last year, we spent pounds 60 million on herbal and homeopathic remedies and aromatherapy oils.

Private medical insurers are even extending cover to include the main therapies and the NHS is spending at least pounds 1 million a year on complementary practitioners.

Nearly three-quarters of GPs are estimated to have referred patients for alternative treatments, and the first full-time NHS aromatherapist was recently appointed in Sheffield.

A third of the population is estimated to have tried alternative medicine or visited its practitioners, and four out of five pronounced themselves satisfied with their treatment.

But supporters of alternative remedies want more regulation to smoke out untrained quacks.

Dr Bob Leckridge, of Glasgow's Homeopathic Hospital, said: "There are regulatory bodies for osteopaths, chiropractors and homeopaths, but many of the other disciplines are unwatched.

"For example, anyone can set up as an acupuncturist by putting a sign in their window.

"We would advise people only to go to therapists recommended by their GPs or by trusted friends who have been treated successfully.

"Our hospital only uses qualified doctors who have then gone on to to train in homeopathy."

Dr Leckridge also warned against stopping medicine prescribed by your GP in favour of herbal remedies.

He said: "People should treat these remedies as complementary, not alternative."

The British Medical Association also warns patients to choose their complementary practitioner carefully.

But the main danger is from self-diagnosis and taking the wrong amounts or the wrong "harmless" herbs and natural remedies.

Professor Edzard Ernst, of Exeter University - Britain's first professor of complementary medicine - said: "Even a perfectly safe remedy, mainstream or unorthodox, can become unsafe when applied incompetently.

"Like other types of medicine, complementary medicine can be directly harmful through adverse effects of a herbal drug, or indirectly harmful, through being applied incompetently."

Debbie Shaw, who runs the Traditional Remedies Surveillance Project at Guy's and St Thomas's Hospitals in London said: "People ignore the fact that traditional remedies have a pharmacological action on the body.

"Occasionally, if they are misused, they can be as toxic as pharmaceuticals. And people tend to be careless with them."

People often ignore the advice on the pack and exceed the recommended dosage in the belief that it can't do any harm.

They also mix and match remedies with the idea that, if taking one herb is good, then taking two must be better.

Another tendency is to start taking a remedy and then go on and on taking it, thinking that short-term benefits will last forever.

But many of these remedies aren't meant to be used long-term and can cause damage. For example, over-use of herbal diuretics to help with water retention can lead to kidney problems, while long-term use of laxatives can interfere with the normal function of the colon.

Bad reactions can happen if a herbal remedy is mixed with conventional medication.

Ginseng - one of natural medicine's most popular tonics - can react badly with commonly prescribed drugs such as steroids, nosteroidal anti-inflammatories and anticonvulsants. …

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