Pearce-Carol-Dr Apr16More understanding of Complementary Medicine is beneficial for both doctors and patients.

Defining Complementary Medicine (CAM) is far from straightforward. It’s generally regarded as embracing all therapeutic approaches outside conventional medicine. However, as we all know, pinning down the latter isn’t easy either. There are regional and cultural differences, for a start. Acupuncture and herbal remedies are mainstream in China and homeopathic treatment and vitamin therapies are rebated by Government Medical Insurance in France. Switzerland now has five CAM modalities offered as part of publicly funded health care.

An increasing number of people here use complementary medicines. Statistics suggest that two out of three Australians regularly use a natural healthcare product and one in three rely on a CAM practitioner in preference to a GP. Interestingly, perhaps alarmingly, less than 40% of CAM users inform their GPs they’re doing so.

Despite warnings about the use of nutritional supplements, Script Wise reports that in Victoria alone more people died of prescription drug overdoses in 2012 than the number killed in traffic accidents. Similar statements have been made by the Center for Disease Control in the USA where, in a corresponding period, there were zero deaths from herbal or nutritional supplements.

Capsules-chemical-symbolsSince 2000 NHMRC has provided more than $86 million in funding for scientific research into CAM in competitive peer-reviewed articles and the number of CAM studies are increasing. In Pub Med, ‘Curcumin’ (Turmeric) now receives numerous hits and, although many of these relate to inflammation, many concern dementia, memory and neuroprotective effects. Databases such as Hyperhealth Pro provide access to information on a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, interactions with other substances and potential side effects.

I recently saw two women with longstanding irritable bowel syndrome. Both had been extensively investigated and undergone treatment with no relief. After using Probiotics they achieved symptom resolution within days.

I also saw a lady in her 40s with a long history of fatigue and poorly controlled depression, despite significant SSRI dosing. She reported significant improvements in mood and energy levels on a simple Multi-B capsule and her symptoms are now well controlled. A number of my patients with insomnia or restless leg syndrome have been helped by night-time magnesium and Riboflavin can be an effective migraine prophylaxis.

If we as medical practitioners gain more knowledge about CAM, particularly the readily available complementary medicines so many of our patients are using, we will be better placed to advise our patients regarding their efficacy and potential interactions.

References available on request.