Good medicine considers all the options

Do you have treatment from an acupuncturist, herbalist or a Bowen therapist?  Do you use homoeopathic remedies or dietary supplements?   Have you got faith in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)?  Well, you’re in good company. From Prince Charles to Hollywood stars to your next door neighbour, the use of CAM is widespread and often passionately supported.  Surveys indicate that up to 40% of our patients use some sort of alternative therapy, either instead of or as well as their conventional treatments.  But as many of 70% of them don’t tell their doctors what they are taking!

This has sometimes left general practitioners in a difficult position.   While we want patients to achieve the best health possible we often haven’t had enough scientific information available to judge what natural remedies are effective.  And what there is, is often swamped by over-hyped advertising claims, faddish health beliefs and mistrust of conventional medicine.

But the gap is closing.  Genuine hostility between doctors and natural therapists is unusual.  All of us can see the benefits of open communication, co-operation and co-ordination of treatment.  The modern approach is to critically examine therapeutic claims for both conventional medicine and CAM.  After all, if your doctor is prescribing something you would expect this to have strong clinical evidence for efficacy. Why not expect the same level of support for a natural remedy, especially if it is costly?

Ask the hard questions.   If a natural product it said to “support joint health” will it actually relieve your arthritic pain?  How many patients get relief from it?  Twenty per cent? Is that an acceptable response rate, or would you be better spending your money on movie tickets.   It is not sufficient to rely on testimonial support.  Individual responses vary so much that they are very poor guide. And “scientifically proven” has been so misused as an advertising tagline that I’ve become very sceptical about it.

On the other hand,   the explosion of medical research has given us a swag of helpful information.  Dr Google has a lot to say about this, including research from large public health services, such as the USA National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. I often refer to their “herbs at a glance” section when advising patients about natural remedies. (

So, talk to your GP.  Let him know what you are taking or thinking of taking. Make sure it doesn’t clash with your conventional medication. Get the best of both worlds!