Oct 282015
 
Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst, ‘Lullaby, the Seasons Spring’ (detail), 2002

I love this Damien Hirst print. I could easily create my own with the amount of medication some of my patients are taking when they first come to see me. A large number of them are experiencing symptoms caused by these drugs. This is mainly medication prescribed by doctors, but also includes drugs bought over the counter, such as painkillers and antacids.

Read the label

Sometimes the patient is aware that their symptoms are, or may be, caused by the side effects of medication, but often they are not. And I’d just like to say here that it’s important to read the list of potential side effects, and contraindications with other medication and health complaints, that accompanies any medication you are prescribed. Doctors don’t always give you all, or even some, of this information.

Polypharmacy

Just to complicate matters, some of the patients’ symptoms may stem from medication prescribed to help counter the side effects of the first lot of medication prescribed. It’s part of a syndrome known as ‘polypharmacy’, aka, ‘over-prescribing’ (my definition).

Recent research has revealed that approximately two-thirds of the drugs given to polypharmacy patients can safely be stopped, with no ill effects. In fact, often with very positive effects. There was a great article in the New Statesman in October last year, called ‘The old lady was taking lots of pills – and then she got confused’… Kind of sums it all up.

Statins, painkillers, anti-inflammatories….

Some of the commonly prescribed drugs that my patients have problems with include a whole range of antidepressants, statins, blood pressure and heart medication, thyroid meds, asthma medication, HRT and the contraceptive pill, painkillers, anti-inflammatories and steroids. Specifically, a few names that spring to mind because I hear them so often, are Omeprazole, Lansoprazole, Levothyroxine, Carbimazole, Propranolol, Tamsulosin, Finasteride, Tranexamic acid, Alendronic acid, Clopidogrel, Atenolol…. to name but a very few.

A natural approach to side effects

What I help people to do, is work out which meds may be causing problems for them, and look at ways to help them either stop, or reduce, that medication, using herbal medicine – medicinal plants – as an alternative and/or support while withdrawing from medication. At the same time, I will be trying to find the underlying cause of their health problem, and using herbal medicine, dietary and lifestyle advice to help them resolve it naturally, without any further damage to their health. At the very least, I aim to reduce the amount of medication they are taking, improve symptoms and quality of life, by supporting the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

Dec 122014
 

The health of the nation!White willow (Salix alba) is a renowned herbal anti-inflammatory and painkiller used in herbal medicine. It is a herb medical herbalist Deanne Greenwood often uses in her practices in Falmouth, Helston and Penzance in Cornwall.

The Health Survey for England published this week revealed that almost half the population is taking some form of prescribed medication, ie I in 2 people. This doesn’t include over-the-counter medication such as painkillers, laxatives, sleeping tablets and antacids, and the contraceptive pill. Imagine what the figure would be if it did! Also, more than a fifth of men and nearly a quarter of women are taking at least three prescriptions.

Multi prescriptions

Earlier this week a neighbour told me that her father had just returned home after a brief stay in hospital. He’d become increasingly incapacitated, physically and mentally, she explained, and so the hospital had decided to withdraw all his medication (a very long list!) to try to get to the bottom of it. He was soon feeling a lot better, and the conclusion was that it had been the medication that had been making him ill.

Statins and painkillers

None of this comes as any surprise to me. Nor will it to any herbalist or holistic practitioner, I would imagine. We see so many patients who have been on a catalogue of drugs for many years – statins, anti-inflammatories, painkillers, antihypertensives, thyroid medication and antidepressants are common – often including medication to relieve the side effects of other medication they are taking.

Alternative approaches

These patients often feel that their prescribed medication is not helping, and sometimes is making them feel worse, and they are looking for an alternative approach to dealing with their health problems.

Herbal medicine

Herbal medicine, coupled with quite simple and straightforward dietary and lifestyle advice, can help. Sometimes it can go all the way, and help people resolve their health problems so that they no longer need to take medication. In other instances, it can help reduce a person’s reliance on prescription drugs, so that they are able to take fewer and lower dosage drugs, and hugely improve their state of health and quality of life. It also helps people take control of their own health and lives, instead of just trotting down to the pharmacy clutching their repeat prescription.

Willow v aspirin

In herbal medicine there are thousands of plants with many different therapeutic properties and actions, including anti-inflammatories, anti-hypertensives, antidepressants and analgesics. But each and every one of them contains a myriad of other constituents, too, that all work together to support the body as a whole and help it heal. Without causing other problems. For example, White willow (Salix alba) is a renowned herbal anti-inflammatory and analgesic. (See About Herbal Medicine for more information.) In fact, aspirin was originally synthesised from willow. But by extracting the active constituent of the plant, salicylic acid, and creating a chemical version known as acetylsalicylic acid, some of the healing power of the plant was lost. Hence, perhaps, the fact that aspirin can have rather unpleasant side effects such as internal bleeding and stomach ulcers, whereas taking the original herbal version does not.

Hormonal help

There are also many plants that can help rebalance hormones and relieve gynaecological problems such as PMS, fertility and conception issues, PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis, menopausal symptoms. I believe that the contraceptive pill/implant is often at the root of, and also a contributory factor in, many of these health problems, as well as others such as some autoimmune disorders. Stopping using hormonal contraception is usually helpful, but often not enough to resolve the problem, and a natural approach incorporating herbal medicine, diet and lifestyle factors is needed to bring this finely tuned body system back into balance and optimum function.

The cost of mass medication

Going back to the Health Survey for England, the cost of all these prescriptions for last year alone was over £15 billion. Who benefits? The drug manufacturers, big fat global conglomerate businesses…