Monday 1 August 2022 11:45 AM The alternative medicines that actually work, according to the world's leading ... trends now

Monday 1 August 2022 11:45 AM The alternative medicines that actually work, according to the world's leading ... trends now
Monday 1 August 2022 11:45 AM The alternative medicines that actually work, according to the world's leading ... trends now

Monday 1 August 2022 11:45 AM The alternative medicines that actually work, according to the world's leading ... trends now

When people think of 'alternative' medicine, they often associate it with charlatans, quacks and pseudoscience.

But research suggests some remedies once written off as bunk may in fact help treat a range of conditions, from pain to depression, and even cancer.

Last week, a US study claimed to show for the first time that mindfulness meditation can act as a painkiller, dampening responses in the brain responsible for aches.

It followed major research in March that found a supplement made from shellfish had 'anti-cancer benefits'. In the study of 400,000 people, there was a 16 per cent lower risk of lung cancer in those who took the tablets regularly.

And research spanning decades has indicated the flower St John's wort can be as effective as antidepressants in people with mild or moderate depression.

Such research has convinced even the staunchest of critics there may be a place for alternative medicine in the way we treat modern disease.

Professor Edzard Ernst, chair of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, has made a career out of  calling out treatments with no scientific backing.

He recently authored the book Charles: The Alternative Prince, in which he denounced the Prince of Wales' obsession with homeopathy.

But he has admitted not all alternative medicine should be tarred with the same brush, and is keeping his eye on five of the most promising treatments in the field:

Professor Edzard Ernst (inset), the world's foremost expert in alternative medicine, says research has suggested glucosamine (top left), meditation (top), St John's wort (top right), TENS (bottom left) and melatonin (bottom right) could all be beneficial for a range of medical conditions

Professor Edzard Ernst (inset), the world's foremost expert in alternative medicine, says research has suggested glucosamine (top left), meditation (top), St John's wort (top right), TENS (bottom left) and melatonin (bottom right) could all be beneficial for a range of medical conditions

St John's wort for depression

Alternative medicines could also help treat another affliction becoming increasingly more prevalent in the modern day — depression.

Around 4.5 per cent of Britons are thought to be clinically depressed, according to some estimates, up by a fifth since the turn of the century.

NHS doctors currently prescribe cognitive behavioural therapy or antidepressants. But the latter can cause a range of side-effects, including headaches, nausea and problems sleeping, leading some to seek alternatives.

St John's wort is a flower that has long been used to treat mental health problems. It is one of the best-researched herbal remedies and is taken as a daily capsule, costing around 25p per pill.

There is good evidence that St John's wort may reduce symptoms in people with mild-to-moderate, but not major depression. In many studies it seems to work as well as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a popular type of antidepressant often prescribed to treat depression.

The latest paper was done by researchers at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California — a non-profit thinktank that produces research to the US Air Force.

The meta-analysis, published in Systematic Reviews in 2016, looked at 35 studies including 6,993 patients who were either given the herbal remedy, a placebo or antidepressants.

They found people taking St John's wort was as effective as antidepressants, while causing a third less side effects. It was also 53 per cent more effective than taking a placebo. 

The authors wrote: '[St John's wort] monotherapy for mild and moderate depression is superior to placebo in improving depression symptoms and not significantly different from antidepressant medication.

'Adverse events reported in RCTs were comparable to placebo and fewer compared with antidepressants.'

Professor Ernst said: 'This is most encouraging, but one must nevertheless caution. 

'St John's wort powerfully interacts with about 50 per cent of all prescription drugs and thus can cause considerable harm.' 

TENS for pain

Knee pain, period cramps and endometriosis flare-ups could be aided by a special treatment that zaps the body with electricity, according to Professor Ernst.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) aims to soothe aches by blocking nerve signals using a mild electrical current.

Using electricity for pain relief was first reported by the Romans, with Emperor Claudius's court physician noting standing on electric fish on the beach reduced his pain in 63 AD.

The first modern TENS machine was patented in the US in 1974, initially used for chronic pain, although it has since been broadened for a variety of aches.

Professor Ernst told MailOnline: 'Put simply, it consists of a little battery-driven generator of a low voltage electrical current that connects to electrodes which the patients attaches over the area of pain. 

'It is believed that the electric current stimulates nerve cells that block the transmission of pain signals, modifying the perception of pain.'

The NHS currently recommends people considering TENS speak to their GP, who could refer them to a physiotherapist or pain clinic for the treatment.

But it states 'there's not enough good-quality scientific evidence to say for sure whether TENS is a reliable method of pain relief'.

However, Professor Ernst pointed to a review published in February of 381 trials

read more from dailymail.....

PREV Monday 1 August 2022 10:15 AM Rishi Sunak's £10 fine for patients who miss NHS appointments would only 'make ... trends now
NEXT Monday 1 August 2022 02:18 PM Would you swap your Aperol spritz for sprints on a luxury mini-break? trends now