New Book Exposes Facts on Numerous Natural Medicines

August 6, 2008

By WINDER, Virginia

This article was written by a contributor. It is not to be reproduced without permission from the Taranaki Daily News and charges may be incurred.


A HARDCORE sceptic is now trumpeting the use of natural remedies to help people become healthier and happier. But pharmacist, doctor and medical researcher Shaun Holt is adamant his message is based on pure science, not hearsay. His just- released book, Natural Remedies That Really Work, A New Zealand Guide, comes with a bottom line: “What medical research actually says about natural health products and therapies.” The British- trained, Tauranga-based medical expert says he’s looked at the most compelling “good” research from scientists the world over during the past few years and been wowed by their findings.

Holt wasn’t always so convinced about natural remedies.

“Basically, I was a card-holding, paid-up member of the Sceptics Society,” he says.

Systematic scientific studies, especially large randomised controlled trials and meta-analysis (overview of many studies of one medicine or natural remedy), changed his way of thinking.

However, he’s quick to point out that the difference between natural products and pharmaceuticals is often smaller than people realise.

“A quarter of prescription drugs are taken directly from plants or are chemically modified versions of compounds that are taken directly from plants, and over half of pharmaceuticals are made from natural compounds,” he says.

Of the 76 natural remedies outlined in his book, the one that is head and fins above the rest is fish oil, also known as omega-3.

Fatty fish plays a pivotal role in 16 of the 148 studies Holt has chosen for the first edition of the guide. Including 1 gram (1000mg) of fish oil in your daily diet can have positive effects in treating back and neck pain, cardiac arrhythmia, depression, bipolar depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, psychiatric patients with a history of self-harm and Alzheimer’s.

Omega-3 also helps reduce mental and cognitive decline in the aged, the chance of developing renal cell carcinoma, prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and the risk of dying from coronary artery disease.

Further studies show that taking fish oil during pregnancy leads to better language, behaviour and hand-eye coordination in toddlers, higher IQ in children and aids concentration in students and improves their performance in exams.

A new study not included in the book shows that taking 1000mg of omega-3 each day has the same therapeutic effects as taking 20mg of fluoxetine (Prozac) daily. However, the researchers found that taking both daily was the most effective treatment of all.

While the fatty fish message is a positive one, it comes with a couple of cautions. People taking antidepressants shouldn’t go off them without seeking advice from their doctor, Holt says.

Also, those taking fish oil supplements need to get the dose right. “More is not necessarily better with omega-3,” he says. “Some studies suggest its beneficial effects are actually reduced with higher dosages, perhaps because taking high levels of omega-3 produces oxidative stress.”

Because of this, some doctors recommend taking antioxidants like vitamins C and E with fish oil supplements, he says.

For those who find the thought of taking fish oil hard to swallow, there is an alternative.

“Good news for vegetarians is that flaxseed oil can also provide your daily dose of omega-3,” Holt says.

Other natural stars are probiotics and echinacea.

In a well-controlled trial, mothers with a family history of allergies received an oral probiotic from week 36 of their pregnancy until birth, and then their babies were given the same product for 12 months.

The study showed that infants given the probiotic had significantly less eczema during their second year and less reactivity to the skin prick test than those who were given the placebo.

“Because probiotics appear to alleviate eczema in children, they may reduce the risk of developing respiratory allergic disease later in life,” Holt writes in his book.

Probiotics may also help ease colic in babies, according to another study.

And adding probiotics and lactoferrin to the standard triple- drug therapy helped patients with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, known to cause stomach ulcers. The H. pylori eradication rate increased from 76% in those given the standard therapy to 92% in those who were also given probiotics and lactoferrin.

Extracts from a daisy-like herbaceous flower may be the big battler against the common cold, other research has shown.

A meta-analysis looking at data from 14 studies found that echinacea reduced the common cold by 58% and shortened the duration of the illness by 1.4 days. The recommended daily dose is two 350mg capsules three times per day.

Other natural remedies covered in the book include optimism, transcendental meditation, music therapy, acupuncture, tai chi, yoga, milk, tomato extract and ice.

And for those suffering from the winter blues, light therapy could be the cure. Yes, we could all do with a trip to the tropics right now, but this is about receiving artificial light from a SunBox.

About 100 people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) received either light treatment or antidepressants. Both treatments helped ease the depressive disorder brought on by lack of sun during winter, but the light therapy shone that bit brighter.

“Light therapy appeared to make a quicker impact with better responses over the first week and produced fewer side effects,” Holt writes.

All the research precised in his book has been published in reputable medical journals around the world.

Holt plans to put out a new guide each year to help people wade through the swathes of research on health treatments au naturel.

(c) 2008 Daily News; New Plymouth, New Zealand. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

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