UK’s largest alternative medicine hospital to stop offering NHS-funded homeopathy
What surprises me is the singling out of natural medicines for culling when organisations focused on such culling haven’t had the same intent for mainstream medicines such as anti-depressants, some of which have been found to be no better than placebo in achieving their desired outcomes.
One conclusion of such paper was this:
“A key issue disregarded by critics is the patient’s point of view, as if the patient is benefiting from antidepressant treatment does it matter whether this is being achieved via drug or placebo effects?”
The drugs don’t work? Antidepressants and the current and future pharmacological management of depression
Why not apply that same conclusion to homeopathy?
"Why did my GP prescribe antibiotics for my child’s tonsillitis when they deduced it's most likely to be a viral infection?"
This was a question I was asked earlier this week during a homeopathic consultation.
As serendipity would have it, an article printed on the same day as the consultation pretty much concluded what answer I gave to the parents. More oddly still, the chief investigator of the programme is Alastair Hay! It’s not me though, he’s the Professor of Primary care at The University of Bristol as well as a GP.
The answer I gave, was that we tend to go to the GP because we want reassurance that everything is OK, or that something is going on that’s beyond what we’re able to deal with ourselves. The GP then feels a duty to reassure, and often prescribe.
We live in an ever increasingly litigious society so the GP may also feel pressurised to prescribe something ‘just in case’. Imagine a situation where a GP hadn’t prescribed a medicine, yet could have done, and something more serious precipitated that was deemed preventable with early intervention with antibiotics.
We can also feel that we’ve wasted our GPs time if they don’t prescribe.
There’s also an increasing trend toward parents being considered negligent if they don’t seek medical advice, our GP often being the most reliable, first port of call.
Conclusions in this article which I wholeheartedly agree with are:
Dr Cabral and her colleagues believe that interventions to reduce unnecessary prescribing for children with respiratory tract infections (RTIs) should increase GPs’, and to a lesser extent parents’, confidence in the safety of not prescribing. This will allow them to modify their behaviour while still conforming to the social norm of ensuring child safety.
Dr Cabral added: “We also need to increase parents’ confidence in their ability to distinguish and care for self-limiting illness at home. An increasing number of children are attending primary care or A&E and health services are struggling to cope. Our research shows that simple messages such as telling parents to manage these illness at home are unlikely to work when there is such a social pressure on parents to consult. We need to engage more widely with the social beliefs that create that pressure on parents.”
“It's safer to …” parent consulting and clinician antibiotic prescribing decisions for children with respiratory tract infections: An analysis across four qualitative studies
Why are so many children given antibiotics for a cough?
NHS sets aside quarter of its budget for medical negligence claims
I understand hay fever to be an allergic response to pollen, centred especially in the eyes and nose, but can also affect the throat, chest, ears and skin. In general, we are likely to feel tired, as if fighting a cold, or even ‘flu.
Our immune system, or ‘defence’, is behaving as if attacked, by pollen. The response, our defence, is an inflammatory one, utilised to inactivate the ‘invader’, in this instance, pollen.
There are in essence, 3 ways in which this inappropriate allergic response can be managed.
Reducing the exposure to pollen
Physical barriers such as sunglasses or indeed regular glasses will impede the physical exposure of your eyes to pollen. Larger glasses are obviously better for this, but functionality and fashion may clash here, use your discretion!
To reduce pollen exposure in your nose, you can coat the inside of your nostrils with Vaseline (white petroleum jelly) or an unscented vegetable-oil / beeswax based lip balm. This has the effect of catching pollen in the external part of your nostrils.
Pollen is most prevalent where there are flowering plants. As well as flowers, this can be tree blossom, grasses and reeds. You may have a reaction to all of the above, or more likely, some of them. Please see this chart from The Met Office that shows when the pollen is at its peak. - More information about The Pollen Count from The Met Office (where you find the chart below a lot bigger!)
My personal feeling is that the ‘pollen count’ can be misleading since it is thetotal pollen. You may still be experiencing significant symptoms in a low pollen count if the majority of that count contains the one you’re most allergic to. Nevertheless, the chart is useful.
The University of Worcester that is home to the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit gives a more accurate breakdown of the airborne pollen.
Current Pollen Forecast - from University of Worcester
Some people report keeping doors and windows shut whilst indoors improves their symptoms. Most modern cars with air-conditioning also have a pollen filter. It’s important that this is clean and isn’t harbouring mould-spores since this may add to your symptoms! Paradoxically, I also know clients that will insist that going outdoors improves their symptoms, finding indoors ‘stuffy’.
As night draws in, pollen tends to drop and settle, so dusk can be a particularly prevalent hay fever time.
Pollen will adhere to your clothes, skin and hair. So, drying your clothes on a washing line at dusk, may not be ideal…
Pollen will actually irritate more when the pollen spores are broken. Blowing your nose hard, and rubbing your eyes will encourage the pollen spores to rupture, and will exacerbate your reaction to it. It is prudent to be gentle when dealing with your symptoms, despite how irritating hay fever can be.
Also bear in mind that air-borne pollutants, such as exhaust fumes, that may not normally irritate you, may now exacerbate your hay fever symptoms due to already sensitised mucus membranes from prior inflammation.
Reducing the immune response.
Anti-histamines, as the name suggests, reduce the release of histamine in your body. Histamine is released by our bodies as part of our defence mechanism and is associated with inflammation. Although it may be hard to comprehend, this is a protective response, but in the instance of hay fever, it is somewhat misaligned!
NHS overview of antihistamines
Antihistamines are nearly always the first line of conventional therapy for dealing with hay fever. They can be very effective when used in conjunction with some of the ‘pollen avoiding’ protocols, above.
Some people have such severe symptoms as to be prescribed steroid-based medications in addition to antihistamines. These aren’t the same sort of ‘steroids’ that a body-builder may abuse, but are a particular type of steroid called ‘corticosteroids’. These reduce the immune response in a more generalised manner than antihistamines, but will take a few days to reach their peak effect.
NHS - Hay Fever, your options
Sadly, homeopathy isn't listed as an NHS option in the link despite it being available on the NHS (at the point of writing this!) and their being evidence to support its efficacy, but that rant's for another blog...
Antihistamines and steroid-based medications don’t suit everyone. Anti-histamines, especially, the first generation ones such as Piriton (chlorphenamine maleate) are associated with drowsiness, more modern ones are less associated with this. Some people may report that they are drowsy whilst taking modern antihistamines too. This may indeed be their anithistamines, or perhaps even the hay fever itself is persisting in producing drowsiness.
You may find that as the years go by, your symptoms improve, may be having good and bad years. If your symptoms are increasing with every year, you may wish to either supplement your medications with other approaches (complementary) or seek a different (alternative) approach to managing your hay fever.
This may be your first year of hay fever and you would like to try an alternative to conventional medications as your first resort.
Some conventional medications for hay fever are not recommended if you are pregnant, or trying to conceive, and some may interact with other medications you may already be taking. Do consult with the person who’s prescribed your medications before taking additional ones, whether conventional, or otherwise. Furthermore, some medications, whether conventional or herbally derived are banned by The International Olympic Committee (IOC), so alternatives may need to be sought.
Comprehensive list of banned substances in sport from WADA
UK Anti-Doping website
Balance the person
Fundamentally, there’s two ways you can overcome symptoms, work against them with medications such as anti-histamines (and indeed anti-biotics, anti-hypertensives, anti-emetics, anti-convulsants and so on…) or strengthen the person.
On a basic level, if you suffer with hay fever, your immune system believes that pollen is attacking you! Pollen is a protein-based structure that in hay fever sufferers, actives an immune, or defence response. For some people, it’s dog hair or horse hair or dust or peanuts or mushrooms or latex… For most people, they’re likely to be allergic to more than one thing. So, do you suppress it, or balance it, or perhaps a bit of both?
The health-promoting programmes I feel may help include
4. NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming)
5. Nutrition including dietary programmes
Homeopathy is very much a person, rather than complaint-driven treatment – So, if you choose a homeopathic approach, the ‘individuality’ of your symptoms will play a major role. For instance, if you feel your hay fever symptoms are better outdoors, as discussed earlier, you are more likely to benefit from Pulsatilla than Allium cepa. There are some great books and websites that help you differentiate between homeopathic medicines to help you with your hay fever symptoms, however, to get the best from homeopathy you’d be wise to seek a homeopath. Homeopathy can work wonders if self-prescribed but some find that self-prescribed medications don’t work as well as those prescribed after a professional consultation. If you’re already taking medications, I’d pretty much insist on it! Personally, I’d find it pretty difficult to self-prescribe with a streaming nose, red eyes and sneezing my head of…
Homeopathy is safe during pregnancy, fine with the IOC (International Olympic Committee), The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) and WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), safe for children (tastes nice too!) and non-drowsy.
I buy in my homeopathic medicines from either Helios Homeopathic Pharmacy or Ainsworths Homeopathic Pharmacy
Did you know that only a pharmacist is legally allowed to manufacture homeopathic medicines?
Herbalism – somewhat more ‘material’ and tangible compared to homeopathy and just as effective. Being more ‘material’ is has a greater ability to interact with other medications. Some herbs may be contraindicated in pregnancy, some herbs taste pretty grim and can be a palaver to prepare. That aside, there’s some great individual, and mixed blends of herbs, again, best focussed on your symptoms rather than just ‘hay fever’ in general. For instance, you may be ‘bunged up’ or ‘itchy’, or have a ‘runny nose’ or be ‘perpetually sneezing’. Your symptoms will, to a large extent, dictate what’s most appropriate for you to try. I’m a fan of ‘tinctures’. These are herbs that have been prepared in alcohol solutions. They are relatively easy to carry around and prepare, with a pretty good ‘shelf-life’ – not far off being an ‘instant’ herb tea. I nearly always get my herbal tinctures from Neal’s Yard Remedies. They have great reference books my particular favourites are:
Bartram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine
David Hoffman's Holistic Herbal
Neal's Yard Remedies - Store Finder UK
I would also consider looking at Aromatherapy, in the sense that there are essential oils, plant-based distillates, that when diluted can be inhaled to relieve the symptoms of hay fever.
I know some great herbalists if you’d like to consult with one.
Acupuncture - Now, I don’t profess to know much about acupuncture, although I know a few acupuncturists! I do know hay fever sufferers that have been relieved with the help of acupuncture. They may also offer you Chinese herbs depending on their training. When considering an acupuncturist, and all other complementary therapists, for that matter, do check their qualifications and credentials.
NLP - yes, NLP! Neuro-linguistic programming. My first experience with NLP was when I was suffering rather badly with hay fever myself – rather embarrassing for a homeopath, I know, but I’m human too, luckily I’ve pretty much overcome it now (the hay fever, not the being human!) In my session, in a café in Covent Garden, my practitioner asked me to imagine someone walking out of the lift, covered in pollen and wafting it everywhere as they walked by… I sneezed. Amazing what the mind can do isn’t it? So, we then explored a pollen-free arena within the depths of my mind and I felt somewhat better. It helped for quite a while too.
Nutrition - Foods (and other potential allergens) that we may not normally have a reaction to, become apparent when we have hay fever. It’s like a threshold of tolerance has been broken. Foods that may not normally aggravate, but may during the hay fever season include wheat (including beer – boo!) dairy products (including milk chocolate – double boo!)
You may wish to experiment with avoiding these foods, or at least reducing them to see if your hay fever is affected. I feel this is best carried out under the supervision and direction of a nutritionist.
Depending on where you live, I can put you in touch with some good ones.
Supplements… There’s a myriad of supplements out there, some people find one thing beneficial, and someone else, another. I have personally found local honey and quercetin beneficial. This is not the case for everyone.
I use Cytoplan products since they manufacture their products in a manner that makes them ‘bio-available’ in a ‘food-state’ form and therefore nearer to nature, so your body absorbs most, if not all of the product. They are also very reasonably priced!
I’d like to leave you with this…
I was having a chat with a friend of mine about his hay fever, it wasn’t a formal consultation as such, but it was very apparent that he was suffering. I explained to him my viewpoint of the over-active immune system and he pondered… and he pondered… and he pondered. He then said, or words to this effect… “That’s it, you’re right! …I over-react to everything. I come from a family of ‘over-reactors’, I don’t just sneeze, I ‘very’ sneeze. I don’t just get cross, I get ‘very’ cross. My immune system is just reflecting this isn’t it?!”
Now this guy is a salesman, not a fluffy hippee. He decided there and then, to stop over-reacting (ironic in some respects since that, in itself, seemed like an over-reaction!) and his hay fever stopped. Yes, stopped! It has never returned.
Amazing what the mind can do isn’t it?
Having compiled The Skeptics Agenda, I felt it only right and proper to outline my own agenda. I expected this to be easy. It wasn’t! I don’t think I’ve ever really fully reflected on my motive for doing what I do. Broadly, I do it because I enjoy it and it works. However, over the past week I’ve jotted down, in a bit more detail, 10 pointers to what is my agenda...
My agenda is:
The skeptics agenda, first and foremost is to have homeopathy banned. The basis of which is not sound evidence, but an aversion to ‘homeopathy’, a prejudice, by definition.
The etymology of skepticism implies enquiring and reflection, not dismissiveness. A true skeptic doesn't make pre-judgements. This actually makes them ‘pseudo’ skeptics. We all have prejudices, we are all biased. Our beliefs taint the way we judge and validate new ideas. The thing is, as is aptly explained in this blog, we don’t want to be wrong and we will strongly defend those beliefs.
The impression a skeptic, or indeed pseudoskeptic gives, is that they are right and you are wrong. They are wise and learned and you are not. They are the group that should decide whether you have access to homeopathy and not you. The ultimate result is a denial of your choice. If homeopathy was as insignificant as it’s made out to be, do you think they’d be gunning for it? The problem is, it’s viable ‘competition’.
For some, it’s really important to know ‘how’ something works, and for others it’s more important to see it work. My job, as a homeopathic practitioner, or ‘homeopath’ is actually to make homeopathy work, rather than to find out how it works. For example, the mechanism of action of the painkiller, paracetamol is still poorly understood, yet we know and accept that it works. However, you can analyse a paracetamol tablet and find ‘active’ chemical constituents in it. How about electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) though? No tablets, no chemistry, poorly understood, and still used in some circumstances to manage mental illness, with effect, yet we have little understanding how it works. I’m sure that if this fell under the banner of ‘homeopathy’, the skeptics' opinion of it would differ.
Summary of The Skeptics Agenda
Part 1 - Skeptics claim homeopathy is unscientific
Some elements of homeopathy are scientific, Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy was a scientist. Some elements of homeopathy are ‘artistic’. Medicine is not based purely on science. Many practices in medicine are based on inference, theory, the fact that it’s always been done that way and the knowledge of observable favourable reaction without fully understanding the mechanism of action.
Medicine ≠ science.
Solution – Do patients / clients derive benefit from it? Focus on the results.
Part 2 - Skeptics claim homeopathy is dangerous
Homeopathy isn’t dangerous but homeopaths can be. The lack of integration and animosity between medical disciplines and pride is a stumbling block.
Solution – Train homeopaths well, and regulate appropriately.
Part 3 - Skeptics claim homeopathy is merely placebo
The placebo ‘effect’, is still an effect. Understanding placebo is science. Conventional and non-conventional medical methodologies utilise placebo. There is no significant difference between the beneficial interventions of conventional medical treatments compared to the positive evidence for homeopathy. Animals respond to homeopathic medicines.
Solution – Focus on the word ‘effect’ and not ‘placebo’.
Part 4 - Skeptics claim homeopaths are bare-faced lying snake-oil sales people
Within the realms of homeopathic practice, we don’t have sales reps promoting their medicines to homeopaths. Homeopaths are not ‘incentivised’ to prescribe particular homeopathic medicines over another homeopathic medicine and when a new homeopathic medicine is formulated, it costs the same as one that’s been available for 200 years. Furthermore, the information about new discoveries in homeopathy is shared amongst homeopathic pharmacies freely.
Solution – Understand how homeopaths make a living and how the pharmaceutical industry and medical profession works.
Part 5 - Skeptics claim homeopathy is witchcraft
'Homeopathy is witchcraft' is a statement based on observing that homeopathy works but having no idea how.
Solution – Accept homeopathy works and that we have a limited understanding of how.
Be a skeptic, but be a real skeptic, not a pseudo-skeptic. Base your understanding of the world on what you actually see, feel, hear, smell, touch and taste for real; not what you read in the news or what someone tells you, but what you experience. Question everything. Never accept anything as unquestionable since that is where dogma starts, and progress stops.
Who actually benefits if homeopathy is banned? It's unlikely to be you.
Homeopathy is witchcraft
Witches are bad
Witchcraft is dangerous
To claim that homeopathy is witchcraft makes at least a couple of leaps of faith. Yes, faith.
I’m prepared to accept that favourable responses that people experience from a homeopathic treatment can indeed appear like witchcraft.
‘Witches’ weren’t so impressed when a skeptic turned the statement on its head and claimed ‘witchcraft is homeopathy’
Banning something since some perceive it as witchcraft is somewhat antiquated don’t you think? What year is this? “It’s the witches work... Burn the witch!” I mused over this and it got me thinking...
The majority of my homeopathic contemporaries are women, yet most of the sceptics I’ve engaged with, all bar one in fact, have been men. Is there some kind of disdain for ‘women who heal’ going on here? I don’t know, but it’s food for thought.
Does it sound so offensive to call homeopathy ‘magic’, or ‘wizardry’ instead?
But, does it really matter?
Here’s a testimonial from a former client of mine, a carpenter:
“I approached Alastair with an open mind and in desperation! By chance, I met a former client of Alastair who highly recommended him.
Some say it's witchcraft!
I don't care...
Essentially, no, it doesn’t matter. People are getting well again.
References and further reading:
Homeopathy is witchcraft, say doctors
British Medical Association: homeopathy is witchcraft
UK gov’t condemns Prince’s homeopathy is witchcraft
Homeopathy is witchcraft, say doctors- The noose tightens
Homeopaths are bare-faced, lying snake-oil salespeople
Homeopaths make money from gullible sick people.
My understanding of snake-oil salespeople, is that they peddled their wares by travelling into a town, selling elixirs of no healing value and clearing off.
The origins of the term ‘snake oil’ are from China where oil from the Chinese water-snake was extracted and used for a multitude of maladies. Chinese water-snake oil contains 20 percent eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), one of the two types of omega-3 fatty acids most readily used by our bodies. In the 1860s, Chinese railroad workers would use that Snake Oil to rub their sore muscles. They shared the secret elixir with their American counterparts...and then things got crazy. To cut a long story short they tried to make their own without the Chinese water-snake. Elaborate travelling medicine shows were set up with demos of the remedy's ‘healing’ powers and when it was found that it didn’t work, the peddler had long gone to ply their wares elsewhere.
Essentially, the American counterpart was found to contain none of the ‘active’ ingredients.
This, I suppose, is where our reputation as snake-oil peddlers comes in. Chemically analysing homeopathic tablets for answers will reveal little or nothing, but how about asking the clients of homeopathy?
This is the difference between looking for an action of something or assessing a reaction to something.
Are homeopaths really salespeople?
A homeopath’s standing is largely built upon their reputation of helping people get well and stay well i.e. upon their results... and a homeopath will tend to stay in a town, settle down, become part of the community, integrate and obviously earn their reputation, rather than plying their wares then clearing off.
If you come from the sceptical-activism viewpoint of ‘ban homeopathy’ you’ll chastise homeopaths for both making lots of money, or making no money. If you make ‘lots’ of money from being a homeopath, a skeptic would interpret that as exploitation, since in their eyes it’s money for nothing :) ...and, if you don’t make any money as a homeopath, you’re deemed useless, or homeopathy is.
Therefore, being 'good' or 'bad' salespeople makes no difference as to whether skeptics want to ban homeopathy.
As outlined earlier, our ability to make money, or as I call it 'earn a living', is based upon our reputation.
When I was at college, we didn’t have lessons in sales and marketing despite when practising as a homeopath, it is, in fact, a business. College taught us to be great prescribers and case managers but there were no lessons in how to be salespeople.
‘Homeopaths make money from gullible sick people’?
We actually make a living from ill people getting well.
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BSc (Hons) LCH RSHom Homoeopath