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Complementary/Holistic Medicines can be fatal

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What are complementary and alternative therapies?

  • Complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) are treatments that fall outside of mainstream healthcare
  • Generally when a non-mainstream practice is used together with conventional medicine, it is considered "complementary"
  • When a non-mainstream practice is used instead of conventional medicine, it is considered "alternative"
  • Examples of CAMS include homeopathy, acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractic and herbal medicines
  • Some complementary and alternative medicines or treatments are based on principles and an evidence base that are not recognised by the majority of independent scientists
  • Others have been proven to work for a limited number of health conditions, such as osteopathy, chiropractic and acupuncture for treating lower back pain
  • When a person uses any health treatment - including a CAM - and experiences an improvement, this may be due to the placebo effect
  • Osteopaths and chiropractors are regulated in the same way as mainstream medical professionals
  • There is no statutory professional regulation of any other CAM practitioners

Source: NHS Choices

There is a false belief that "natural" therapies cannot harm. They can and do. This is especially true if you have SLE.

1. Natural herbs etc can interfere with prescribed medicines.They can make them less effective and/or can increase the prescribed dose. For example, St John's Wort is a mild antidepressant and if taking a prescribed antidepressant, this will increase the dose prescribed by your doctor.

2. Certain products in Chinese medicine, will cause damage to the kidneys and is serious for anyone with lupus nephritis. Others may cause serious side-effects.



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Provided it does no harm and her doctor knows, then she has found something that works for her.

The above is taken from NHS Choices, which means it comes from the medical profession within the NHS.

Many people are lured into taking something because they are desperate for a cure. Many take advantage of people's vulnerability and offer products that have no scientific ie medical validity. Vulnerable people are willing to pay for these "cures" which are not cures. Moreover, they can be harmful. There are some medical homeopathic practitioners and there is a hospital in London where patients can go.

However, there are many who offer products that can be very harmful, which is why no one should take anything without the knowledge of their own physician. What people choose to do, is for each person to decide. I have been offered everything,including "celery seeds" from Australia. If these products are "cures", our specialists would know! As a rule of thumb, if it costs a great deal of money: be wary of scams that prey on the vulnerable.

Every so-often, medical journals, such as the British Medical Journal or The Lancet, publish articles on homeopathy and where possible, I publish the information here to be read.

Be well!


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I gather Ros, that you are not a believer in alternative medicine. I man  ( Dr Jonathan Hardy ) goes all over the world doing lectures at hospitals etc. He was a GP when he first stared out. He is a respected doctor in his field of Homeopathy.


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It is not a matter of whether I believe in alternative medicine. For example, osteopaths and chiropractors have a rigorous training. There is a Royal Charter for Chiropractors and while Osteopathy does not, the training is rigorous and their practitioners are also registered.  I will publish papers, articles and recommendations from NHS Choices. Any medical paper will have references and sources so that the individual can check the qualifications of the person writing the paper. I include articles from the British Journal of Medicine,The Lancet, both are from the UK and a variety of papers from the US and elsewhere. Every article will have the name of the author and the full citation/URL to the website. It is not my opinion that matters; what matters is what doctors are saying. As in all cases, the individual patient then makes his/her choice, based on an informed decision.

I posted the above which is advice from NHS Choices. It followed an alarming story of parents who fed their child a regimen of vitamins and supplements. The child became seriously ill and was admitted to hospital. Fortunately, the child recovered, but here is an example of people with the best of intentions causing harm and damage because they are not medical practitioners. This story shows how people believe that taking vitamins or other supplements can only do good, but these natural supplements or herbs can and do cause tremendous harm. In this case, the hospital managed to reverse the damage done by parents, who are not doctors, giving substances without the knowledge or consent of their doctor.

In terms of my view on homeopathy, which is purely my non-scientific-based understanding, the concept of diluting substances in order to generate a cure, does not make any sense. Imagine you are prescribed one tablet of baby aspirin (75mgs) to be taken dissolved in a glass of water. Homeopathy would consist of say a bucket of water, say a gallon and dissolving the baby aspirin. You then take the glass and fill it with the diluted baby aspirin leaving the rest in the bucket. Now, logically how can the second method prove to be effective? Another example: take a pipette and fill it with red dye expel the pipette's substance in a glass of water: it will turn the water red. Now take the same pipette of red dye and expel into a lake. It will not turn the lake red because it is too diluted to cause any effect.

You refer to someone who is a medical doctor who also practices homeopathy. For me, this means that it is unlikely he would cause any harm. However, a GP is not a specialist in MS. Finally, if your wife feels he is helping her MS, this is a very important psychological element. On the basis that he is unlikely to harm her, then if she and you want to spend your money on homeopathy, who am I to tell you what you should or should not do? That is not my role! I would not make any comment on whether she should or should not see him. It is your wife's decision.  All I can do is to provide up to date information from reliable medical sources that can be verified by you. 


In terms of homeopathy, this is from NHS Choices:What is homeopathy? 

Homeopathy is a complementary or alternative medicine (CAM). This means that homeopathy is different in important ways from treatments that are part of conventional Western medicine.

It is based on a series of ideas developed in the 1790s by a German doctor called Samuel Hahnemann.

A central principle of the "treatment" is that "like cures like" – that a substance that causes certain symptoms can also help to remove those symptoms. A second central principle is based around a process of dilution and shaking, called succussion.

Practitioners believe that the more a substance is diluted in this way, the greater its power to treat symptoms. Many homeopathic remedies consist of substances that have been diluted many times in water until there is none or almost none of the original substance left.

Homeopathy is used to "treat" an extremely wide range of conditions, including physical conditions such as asthma and psychological conditions such as depression (see When is it used?).Does it work? 

There has been extensive investigation of the effectiveness of homeopathy. There is no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition (see What can we conclude from the evidence?).It is available on the NHS? 

Homeopathy is not available on the NHS in all areas of the country. Two NHS hospitals provide homeopathy, and some GP practices also offer it.

Homeopathy is usually practised privately and homeopathic remedies are available from pharmacies. The price for an initial consultation with a homeopath can vary from around £20 to £80. Homeopathic tablets or other products usually cost around £4 to £10.

What should I expect if I try it?   

When you first see a homeopath they will usually ask you about any specific health conditions, but also about your general wellbeing, emotional state, lifestyle and diet.

Based on this, the homeopath will decide on the course of  treatment, which most often takes the form of homeopathic remedies given as a pill, capsule or tincture.

Your homeopath may recommend that you attend one or more follow-up appointments so the effects of the remedy on your health can be assessed.When is it used? 

Homeopathy is used for an extremely wide range of health conditions. Many practitioners believe that homeopathy can help with any condition.

Among the most common conditions that people seek homeopathic treatment for are:

  • asthma
  • ear infections
  • hay fever
  • mental health conditions, such as depression, stress and anxiety
  • allergies, such as food allergies
  • dermatitis (an allergic skin condition)
  • arthritis
  • high blood pressure

There is no good quality evidence that homeopathy is an effective treatment for these or any other health conditions.

Some practitioners also claim that homeopathy can prevent malaria or other diseases. There is no evidence to support this and no scientifically plausible way that homeopathy can prevent diseases.

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises the NHS on proper use of treatments. NICE currently does not recommend that homeopathy should be used in the treatment of any health condition.

What are the regulation issues? 

There is no legal regulation of homeopathic practitioners in the UK. This means that anyone can practise as a homeopath, even if they have no qualifications or experience.

Voluntary regulation aims to protect patient safety, but it does not mean that there is scientific evidence that a treatment is effective.

A number of professional associations can help you to find a homeopath who will practise the treatment in a way that is acceptable to you. 

The Society of Homeopaths and the Federation of Holistic Therapistsboth have a register of homeopathy practitioners, which you can search to find a practitioner near you. These registers are accredited by the Professional Standards Authority.

Is it safe? 

Homeopathic remedies are generally safe and the risk of a serious adverse side effect arising from taking these remedies is thought to be small.

Some homeopathic remedies may contain substances that are not safe, or that interfere with the action of other medicines. You should talk to your GP before stopping any treatment prescribed by a doctor or avoiding procedures such as vaccination in favour of homeopathy.

What can we conclude from the evidence? 

There have been several reviews of the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy. The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said there is no evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition.

There is no evidence for the idea that substances that can induce certain symptoms can also help to treat them. There is no evidence for the idea that diluting and shaking substances in water can turn those substances into medicines.

The ideas that underpin homeopathy are not accepted by mainstream science, and are not consistent with long-accepted principles on the way that the physical world works. The Committee's 2010 report on homeopathy said the "like cures like" principle is "theoretically weak", and that this is the "settled view of medical science".

It is of note, for example, that many homeopathic remedies are diluted to such an extent that there is unlikely to be a single molecule of the original substance remaining in the final remedy. In cases such as these, homeopathic remedies consist of nothing but water.

Some homeopaths believe that, due to the succussion process, the original substance leaves an "imprint" of itself on the water. But there is no known mechanism by which this can occur. The 2010 report said: "We consider the notion that ultra-dilutions can maintain an imprint of substances previously dissolved in them to be scientifically implausible."

Some people who use homeopathy may see an improvement in their health condition due to a phenomenon known as the placebo effect.

If you choose health treatments that provide only a placebo effect, you may miss out on other treatments that have been proven to be more effective. Read more about the placebo effect.



The Placebo Effect and Complementary and Alternative Medicine

The placebo effect

When a person uses any type of health treatment and sees an improvement in their symptoms, they may be experiencing the placebo effect.


For hundreds of years, doctors have known that when a patient with a health condition expects their symptoms to improve, they often do improve.

Today, we know that patients who are given empty injections or pills that they believe contain medicine can experience an improvement in a wide range of health conditions.

This kind of fake or empty medicine is often called a "placebo", and the improvement this causes is called the "placebo effect".

It can affect all of us and can occur when a person uses any kind of health treatment – either conventional or complementary and alternative.

It’s important to be aware of the placebo effect when choosing complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs). 

If you choose a complementary or alternative treatment that does not work – and only causes a placebo effect – you may miss out on more effective treatments.

This page covers:

Examples of the placebo effect

CAMs and the placebo effect

Checking the evidence for or against a treatment

Examples of the placebo effect

One well-known example of the placebo effect involves a physical feeling we are all familiar with: pain.

In 1996, scientists assembled a group of students and told them that they were going to take part in a study of a new painkiller, called "trivaricaine".

Trivaricaine was a brown lotion to be painted on the skin, and that smelled like a medicine. But the students were not told that, in fact, trivaricaine contained only water, iodine and thyme oil – none of which are painkilling medicines. It was a fake – or placebo – painkiller.

With each student, the trivaricaine was painted on one index finger, and the other left untreated. In turn, each index finger was squeezed in a vice. The students reported significantly less pain in the treated finger, even though trivaricaine was a fake.

In this example, expectation and belief produced real results. The students expected the "medicine" to kill pain; and, sure enough, they experienced less pain. This is the placebo effect.

Read a summary of the study: Mechanisms of Placebo Pain Reduction.

Placebo medicine has even been shown to cause stomach ulcers to heal faster than they otherwise would.

These amazing results show that the placebo effect is real, and powerful. They mean that fake or placebo treatments can cause real improvements in health conditions.

Experiencing the placebo effect is not the same as being "tricked", or being foolish. The effect can happen to everyone, however intelligent, and whether they know about the placebo effect or not.

CAM and the placebo effect

Evidence about a treatment is gathered by conducting fair tests. In these tests, scientists find out whether a treatment causes an improvement beyond the improvement caused by the placebo effect alone.

Evidence plays an important role in mainstream medicine. This means that when you use many conventional medicines, you can be sure there is evidence they work.

When patients experience improvement after using a healthcare treatment that has not been proven to work, they may only be experiencing the placebo effect.

Of course, improvement in a health condition due to the placebo effect is still improvement, and that is always welcome.

But it is important to remember that for many health conditions, there are treatments that work better than placebos. If you choose a treatment that only provides a placebo effect, you will miss out on the benefit that a better treatment would provide.

Checking the evidence for or against a treatment

The only way to know whether a health treatment works better than a placebo treatment is by checking the evidence.

Evidence, CAM and the NHS

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) uses evidence when it draws up guidance for the NHS on the use of treatments and the care of patients.

Currently, NICE recommends the use of a complementary and alternative treatment in a limited number of instances, including:

  • Alexander Technique for Parkinson’s disease
  • ginger and acupressure for reducing morning sickness
  • acupuncture and manual therapy for low back pain

You can read about the evidence for different CAMs on pages about specific treatments. See our index for a list of all treatments covered by NHS Choices.

How evidence is gathered and used

The best way to produce good evidence on a health treatment is to conduct a fair test. Here, the medicine or treatment being tested is compared to another treatment, or to a placebo.

Tests are made as fair as possible by minimising bias and the role of chance. This means that the test results will reflect, as far as possible, the truth about the medicine or treatment, and will not be influenced by other factors, such as the way the test was carried out, or the attitudes of the people who take part.

Scientists often call these fair tests clinical trials.

Before scientists conclude that a health treatment is safe and that it works, there must usually have been several independent tests of the treatment that have shown this.

Sometimes, different fair tests can give results that disagree.

The results of fair tests can provide:

  • results that show the medicine or treatment does work and is safe; this is often call positive evidence, or evidence for the treatment
  • results that show the medicine does not work, or is unsafe; this is often called negative evidence, or evidence against the treatment

Negative evidence – that is, evidence against a treatment – is not the same as no evidence. Negative evidence means a set of results showing that a medicine or treatment does not work.

No evidence simply means an absence of any evidence, because fair tests have not been conducted.

Where to find out more

  • Read about the evidence for different CAMs on pages about specific treatments. See our index for a list of all treatments covered by NHS Choices.
  • Search for evidence on any treatment on the NHS Evidencewebsite.


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