Alternative Medicine - by Dr David Delvin

Have YOU tried alternative medicine?

Alternative therapies seem to be more and more popular these days, especially when people find that it takes too long to get to see a doctor - or when they feel that orthodox medical treatment doesn't seem to give them a satisfactory answer to their health problems.

My experience has been that very large numbers of folk who are in the retirement age group are choosing alternative therapies - but so are a lot of younger people!

In fact, alternative medicine has become so 'accepted' nowadays that it's often referred to as 'complementary' - meaning that it's a kind of 'companion' to ordinary medicine, rather than something you use INSTEAD.


However, please don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that ALL alternative medicine is absolutely brilliant, or that it works every time, or that it can never do any harm.  That would be quite untrue.  There are plenty of occasions when any kind of alternative medicine would be absolutely useless - for instance, if you had a burst appendix.  And there are times when it could possibly be harmful.

Furthermore, I must be blunt and say that - like most doctors - I do feel that there are some types of alternative therapy which are so crazy that they simply could not work under any circumstances whatever.  Yet their devotees swear by them!

Why is that?  Who do so many people resolutely maintain that 'Therapy X achieves Miracle Cures' when all common sense dictates that Therapy X must really be a pile of garbage?

Well, the main reason is this.  MOST ILLNESSES GET BETTER ON THEIR OWN.  If you give a sick person a tablespoonful of diced banana - and tell him it's a really powerful remedy - then when he gets better he will probably think that it's all due to your wonderful 'cure'!  That's how us human beings are  ...


The other factor is this.  The healing power of the human mind is IMMENSE.

Occasionally, it can actually cure you of an illness.  But much more often, it can make you feel a lot better.

So if a doctor or a therapist tells you forcefully that something is going to do you good, then very frequently you WILL find that your symptoms seem much less of a problem - or that they actually go away.

This phenomenon is seen again and again in what scientists call 'the PLACEBO effect.'  Placeboes are dummy pills, which look like the real thing - but contain absolutely nothing.

Every week, the medical journals report large scientific trails in which hundreds of patients have been given these inert placeboes.  And invariably, about a quarter of the people improve on them!

Placebo tablets work even better if they are certain colours.  And of course - they work best of all IF the doctor who dishes them out has a dominating or flamboyant personality!

Now in the field of alternative medicine, much the same sort of thing happens.  A charismatic healer tells you that if you swallow his remedy, you'll get better.  And if you believe in him, then there's a good chance that his therapy will make you improve - at least for a while.

But my view is that if alternative treatment can harness the power of your mind in a positive way, then so much the better.

However, I'm not saying that all alternative treatments just depend of the power of the mind.  There are some which cause immediate and dramatic PHYSICAL effects on the body - e.g. osteopathy and chiropractice.


People are always assuring me that they've heard that 'alternative medicine can now be obtained on the NHS, doctor .....'  Journalists frequently publish newspaper articles suggesting that the Health Service will provide it, free of charge ....

In fact, I'm sorry but this is not true at all.  Just occasionally, it's possible for a determined patient to obtain some type of complementary medicine under NHS auspices.  But it's pretty rare.  If your local health authorities are far-seeing enough to provide some money for alternative services - well, you're jolly lucky.

So almost certainly, you're going to have to PAY - and it may be quite expensive.  A good tip is that alternative medicine costs MOST in the fashionable areas of big cities - for instance, around London's Harley Street.  But if you can find a good, capable practitioner who practices (say) above your local supeermarket, you'll probably pay a great deal less!


I find that quite a lot of patients - particularly older folk - worry about whether they should tell their GP that they're having alternative therapy.  They don't want to offend him!

On the whole, I reckon that it probably IS best to let your doctor know - just in case there is some clash between the medicines which he's giving you and the complementary ones.

I really don't think you should worry about whether he disapproves or not - after all, it's YOUR body, not his!

In fact, nowadays the medical profession has become considerably more open-minded about other types of therapy.  The years when doctors could (theoretically) be struck off for associating with osteopaths have long gone!

However, I must honestly tell you that you MAY encounter some prejudice from your doc.  On the day I started writing this article, one of the most popular 'weeklies'  published for GPs astonished me by printing a feature which described alternative practitioners as a bunch of publicity-seeking charlatans!  Oh dear, oh dear ......


Finally, here's a very brief guide to some of the more important and interesting types of alternative medicine.  I simply CANNOT cover all of the hundreds of different varieties which are available, but I've included all of the really popular ones.  Here goes:

* OSTEOPATHY  -  I really can't speak too highly of osteopathy - because it has often helped me out when my back has been in trouble.

Basically, it's a system of MANIPULATION, using the parts of the body as 'levers.'  It often makes your joints 'crack' and it frequently gives relief from pain.  It's excellent for back or neck trouble - though I must say that I myself don't 'buy' the idea that it will cure all sorts of other things as well.

Thanks to changes in the Law, there are now very few 'bogus' osteopaths around.  If you want to find a good practitioner, I advise you to look in the Yellow Pages and read through the 'Box' which contains a list of REGISTERED osteopaths.  They are the only ones who are entitled to put the initial 'DO' and 'MRO' after their names - so check for these abbreiviations.

* CHIROPRACTICE - Chiropractors are also very good for back and neck pain. 

The public tends to confuse them with osteopaths, but actually chiropractors use a more 'direct' system of manipulation - rather than 'levering' the joints from a distance.  They're also more likely to employee x-rays.  I advise you to pick a trained chiropractor by looking in the Yellow Pages for practitioners who have 'DC' after their names.  (There are other groups, who claim that THEIR training is also good.)

* ACUPUNCTURE - Acupuncture is often VERY useful for relieving pain, and it is used in some NHS Pain Clinics. 

It's also of some help in treating addictions - including to nicotine.  It is thought that it  works by inducing the brain to release its own natural pain-killer (which are called 'endorphins')

* ACUPRESSURE - Similar to acupuncture, but less alarming for the faint-hearted, since the practitioner just uses PRESSURE at various points - not needles.

* HERBALISM - Herbalism is tremendously popular - including the 'Ayurvedic' variety, which is linked to ancient Indian traditions (see below). 

I suggest you go to a properly qualified practitioner, rather than trying to treat yourself.  Also, please bear in mind that herbal treatment is NOT without risk.  In particular, it has recently been found that certain widely used herbs can interact with medicines from your doctor, and not always positively.

For instance, St John's Wort can clash with the Pill, with heart drugs, and with asthma and epilepsy medications, among others.  Also, some Chinese herbal preparations are now known to damage the liver.

* HOMEOPATHY - Homeopathy has traditionally been favoured by the Royal family, and there is actually a small number of GPs who practice it.

It involves giving medications which are always in tremendously small dilutions.  One good thing about this is that homeopathic remedies hardly ever seem to produce any side-effects - unlike orthodox medications!   Please still advise your GP / specialist if using

* HEALING - There are all kinds of spiritual healing, ranging from prayer to the laying-on of hands.

If you can find a healer who harnesses the formidable power of your mind, then fair enough.

* NUTRITIONAL THERAPY - This is certainly an area which is neglected by us doctors! 

We really don't pay enough attention to what our patients eat.  Qualified nutritionists can help you achieve a balanced diet - with adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals in order to fight disease.

* HYPNOTHERAPY - Hypnotherapy is extremely useful for treating tension and strain.

Being on the receiving end of it is extraordinarily relaxing!  It's also of some benefit in beating addictions - such as tobacco.

But beware of silly ads that claim things like '95% Success Rate in Stopping Smoking!'  My wife, who is a qualified hypnotherapist - tells me that such claims are absurd.  In reality, I'd say that any therapist who achieves a 25% cure rate is doing well.

* YOGA - I strongly recommend yoga for anyone who is suffering from stress, strain or anxiety. 

Personally, I do not believe that it cures PHYSICAL illnesses, but it may have some effect in lowering blood pressure.

* MEDITATION - There all sorts of wildly different forms of meditation, but - if properly carried out - this activity can induce a great sense of inner peace, and so combat anxiety.  It should also reduce blood pressure to some extent.

* AYURVEDIC MEDICINE - This an ancient Hindu system of medicine, and it's used by millions in India. 

It contains elements of herbalism and meditation, as well as much else of a religious nature.  In the UK, it has sometimes tended to become enmeshed with the teachings of the Natural Law Party.

* REFLEXOLOGY - This is the interesting form of alternative medicine which holds that stimulation of the soles of  the feet can influence the function of various organs of the body. 

Many people are devoted to it.  I have to honestly confess that I remain unconvinced - especially as I knew someone who emerged as a 'fully-qualified reflexologist' after just a six-week postal course.  However, the treatment is very relaxing, and seems to be almost totally devoid of side-effects.

* CLINICAL ECOLOGY - Clinical ecology was very big in the 1990s, but now seems to have rather gone out of fashion.

It depends largely on identifying various difference things in everyday life which people are supposed to be allergic to - and excluding them from your environment.  The most 'extreme' diagnosis in this speciality is 'Twentieth Century Allergy' - of which we've heard surprisingly little in the last few years  ....

* AROMATHERAPY - Enormously popular type of alternative medicine, using essential oils distilled from flowers, plant stems, bark, seeds and leaves. 

Having been on the receiving end of it, I can confirm that it can be wonderfully soothing.  However, I have not been able to find any proper scientific trials which show that it really cures anything.

* BACH THERAPY - Called after a Welsh doctor who practised in the English midlands, this is a system of treatment with flower extracts, which nowadays are widely available at chemists, as well as health shops.

People really do swear by the various Bach remedies, and often turn to them in moments of crises.  I'm not aware that these remedies have ever had any really serious scientific trial - but on the other hand, I have yet to see a patient who has been harmed by a Bach remedy!

* BLACK BOX (RADIONICS) - This is a system of alternative medicine which attempts to diagnose your illness by putting some of your hairs into an electrical 'black box' - or by swinging a pendulum over you.

I'm sorry if you believe in this, but I have not been able to take it seriously since the day I sent a radionics practitioner some of my CAT'S hairs - and he produced an impressive but useless 'diagnosis'!

* PSYCHIC SURGERY - 'Psychic surgeons' are tricksters who employ conjurors' 'sleight-of-hand' to pretend to produce lumps of blood-stained flesh out of your body - simply by using their fingers. 

This looks very dramatic, and inevitably it encourages gullible folk to part with their money.  I advise you to have nothing to do with this nonsense.


So there you are: you 'pays your money, and you takes your choice'.

There is not the slightest doubt that a lot of forms of alternative therapy do actually do people GOOD.

But if you think that you may have anything really serious wrong with you - like a heart attack or cancer - I feel that you should at least BEGIN by consulting your GP.  You can always move on to an alternative practitioner susequently.

Below - some questions about alternative medicine - and also some queries about orthodox medicine.  Good health to you!

Q.  I want to get my wife's arthritis treated by an osteopath. There's a chap round our way who says he does osteopathic manipulation, but nobody seems to know if he's qualified or not. He's not in the Yellow Pages, but I suppose he may not be able to afford the advert.

A.  Ring the General Osteopathic Register on 0207-3576655.  They'll tell you whether this bloke is properly qualified or not.  They will also provide any member of the public with the names and addressees of their nearest osteopaths.

Q.  A lady has just set up a 'Chiropractic Clinic' in our town and it seems very ritzy!  Her publicity leaflets describe her as 'A graduate of the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic'.  Is there really such a body?

A.  Yes.  It's the main chiropractic college in this country, and anybody who goes there will have a rigorous and thorough training, lasting about four years.

Q.  How can I find a good homeopath for me and my husband?

A.  Contact the Society of Homeopaths, 11 Brookfield, Duncan Close, Moulton Park, Northampton, NN3 6WL

Q.  I'm 55, female, and a hypnotist has offered to help me with my sexual problems.  I know he does 'stage work' as well as treating patients.  Should I go ahead?

A.  I'm not sure this is a good idea.  If you do decide to let this man put you 'under the influence,' I think you should make sure that you have a friend in the room to act as chaperone.  Details of qualified hypnotists can be obtained from the British Institute of Hypnotherapy on 01702-524484 - or write to them at 12, Heycroft Road, Eastwood, Essex, SS9 5SW

© Dr D Delvin /Retirement Matters Ltd 2007