Among the most popular complementary therapies are: Aromatherapy, Herbal Medicine, (see Therapies A-Z) Chiropractic and Osteopathy (see Back Pain) and Homeopathy, Reflexology and Acupuncture. Acupuncture, Chiropractic and Osteopathy are now registered therapies and in theory they are available on the NHS. This is not always the case and many people still pay privately for sessions.
Here we explain how they work and why they are so popular.
Acupuncture is something that some people swear by and others view as some kind of torture so they won’t go near it. It’s not like having an injection – the needles just prick the skin and sometimes you can barely notice them going in. The effectiveness of acupuncture has been taken on board by the government and according to German research it is the best treatment for bad backs. The good news is that acupuncture is becoming more and more widely available on the NHS in hospital pain centres and at GP surgeries.
Needles are only part of the treatment. When you go to an acupuncturist they ask to see your tongue as it provides a detailed picture of your body’s state of health as the body’s different organs are represented by specific areas of the tongue. In an acupuncture session, the colour, coating, shape, size, moisture and movement will be assessed. This helps the practitioner to know what is going on in the body, in addition to what you tell them.
In ancient China at least 2,000 years ago sharp stones were used for acupuncture before needles were made out of pottery and eventually metal. Acupuncture works on the Chinese principle that there are meridian lines or channels which run throughout the body carrying vital energy. The chi which flows through the meridians becomes blocked causing pain and discomfort so the aim of acupuncture is to stimulate blood flow and release blocked energy. This is achieved by placing needles at specific acupressure points along the meridians. Needles aren’t pushed in very far and usually the patient only feels a slight prick, but some needle-free therapies are now practised – sometimes with lasers.
Acupuncture is particularly helpful for back and joint problems, poor circulation, sinusitis, migraine, arthritis, high blood pressure and many other conditions.
The British Acupuncture Council is on: 0208 735 0400 www.acupuncture.org.uk
There are 40,000 homeopaths in the UK alone and many satisfied customers who have found that homeopathy has helped them, and if they got better they are not really worried about how or why. There is considerable scepticism about homeopathy and some of this is promoted by leading professors who seem hell bent on having it eliminated. The problem stems from the way that homeopathic remedies are made and the fact that the essence of the ingredient is diluted so much that people fail to see how it can be effective.
If you’ve ever bruised yourself and used Arnica cream or tablets you will know how very effective it is!
How it works
Homeopathy is a system of medicine which uses tiny doses of active natural substances from plants, minerals, animals, metals, and diseased human tissue to stimulate the body’s own healing powers to overcome illnesses. It is very safe to use for children, pregnant women and old people. It works very well on animals too.
It is not the same as herbal medicine which uses large doses of whole plant extract in liquid, pill or capsule form. Herbal remedies are generally safe, but they can cause side-effects and interfere with conventional medicines so you need professional advice if you want to take them if you are on medication. This is not the case with homeopathy as it does not interfere with conventional medicines.
How remedies are made
Homeopathy is based upon the principle of the ‘law of similars’. This means that the best treatment for any symptoms in an ill person is a substance which would cause similar symptoms in a healthy person.
This is completely different from conventional medicine, in which drug treatments cause different or opposite symptoms to those of the illness. For example if someone is not sleeping a conventional GP would prescribe a sleeping pill, whereas a homeopath might use a tiny dose of a stimulating substance such as coffee which many people find induces sleeplessness.
The aim is to exaggerate the symptoms initially to encourage the body to recognise the problems and heal itself – similar to the principle of inoculations.
Homeopathic remedies are made from animal, vegetal, mineral and metal or other sources. They are given in a highly diluted form in an alcohol and water mixture or as pills. They are usually so dilute that not a single molecule of the original substance remains – the reason for this is to reduce any side-effects of the medicine that could have occurred.
This fact is so controversial that it’s important to know that homeopaths believe that shaking the mixture vigorously between each dilution (a process called potentisation) enhances the effectiveness of the homeopathic remedy. There are still no widely accepted theories to explain how such dilute solutions have the effects they are claimed to have, so scientists and doctors are not persuaded by the validity of the claims.
How it helps
Homeopaths claim that it works on a physical or energetic level rather than a chemical one. Homeopathy is particularly successful with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, PMS, allergies, period problems, childhood illnesses, anxiety and depression. Not only do patients experience an improvement in their symptoms, but because homeopathy is holistic they notice that their general well-being is better too. It’s not uncommon for them to be able to cut down on conventional medication.
Homeopathy may also bring relief to more serious conditions such as asthma, arthritis, and it can help with the side-effects of cancer treatment or some of the symptoms of cancer.
Some examples of homeopathic remedies that are good for self-prescribing:
Arnica – for all kinds of bruising whether you can see it or not. Internal bruising from injuries or surgery benefit from taking Arnica 30c tablets internally after surgery – not before surgery as it thins the blood. It is particularly helpful in childbirth, or when you have wisdom teeth removed. The result is: bruising is less severe and it takes less time to get better – a friend who had her wisdom teeth out took Arnica and was told by the surgeon that he had never seen anyone get better so quickly. Arnica cream is very effective on the skin for topical or internal bruising.
Nux vomica – an excellent remedy for nausea, indigestion, hangovers, feeling sick or after vomiting. Take Nux vom 30c at regular intervals until you feel better.
Gelsemium – often given to people who are feeling uptight and under severe stress.
Aconite – taken at the beginning of a cold or flu when you sense you don’t feel well but do not know exactly why. It can stop illness in its tracks.
For serious, complex or long-standing illnesses it is advisable to consult a qualified homeopath rather than attempt to treat yourself.
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|Aconite 30c||Nelson’s Clikpak||84||£5.45|
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What happens in a session?
When you see a homeopath you may spend an hour or more with them, far more than with your GP, but the chances are you will be paying between £35 and £50.
You will be asked about all aspects of your life rather than just the symptoms you are experiencing. The homeopath is trying to find out whether the root cause of your illness is emotional, psychological or physical in order to prescribe a remedy that will help on all three levels.
Depending on the severity of the illness you will see your homeopath every two to six weeks and could wait a long time between remedies to give them time to act at a deep level. In an acute situation such as a high fever you might have to take a remedy every 10 minutes.
How to get treatment on the NHS
In theory it should be possible to get homeopathy on the NHS. There are four homeopathic hospitals in the UK: in Glasgow, Bristol, Liverpool and London, but the one in Tunbridge Wells was closed down. Some homeopathic clinics are funded by the NHS and some by charitable organisations. Some GPs have trained in homeopathy and offer remedies as alternatives to drugs.
The fact that there is a squeeze on funds means it could be difficult to get referral. The coalition government is receptive to complementary medicine, as they may have worked out it could save them money, but many doctors are not in favour. If you have a open minded GP you may get referral, or you may be at a surgery where it is available (again quite rare) such as College GP Practice in Cullompton, Devon. See the feature GP Practice of the Future.
Find out more by going to the website of The British Homeopathic Association: www.trusthomeopathy.org
Alliance of Registered Homeopaths, http://www.a-r-h.org/, Tel/Fax: 01825 714506
The Society of Homeopaths, Tel: 0845 450 6611, email: email@example.com, www.homeopathy-soh.org
The following people all went to see Vinciane Ollington, our Homeopathy Expert,
My hay fever and high blood pressure improved
I booked an appointment with Vinciane because my GP wanted to put me on blood pressure lowering drugs and statins. As I am only 37, I did not want to be on a drug regime for the rest of my life. Homeopathy is holistic. It meant that the remedy Vinciane gave me after finding lots of details about me and my health was going to help me in more than one aspect. I took the homeopathic pills as prescribed (one pill daily for two weeks only) and made a few changes to my diet and lifestyle.
My blood pressure stabilised, my cholesterol did as well but the icing on the cake was that my hay fever symptoms were gone for the rest of that summer! This happened five years ago. Now I come and see Vinciane once before the summer to get a prophylactic pill treatment in order to be free of hay fever that year. Year on year my symptoms are diminishing.
Homeopathy cured my son’s allergy
My son has suffered digestive problems since I weaned him at seven months. I put him on a dairy and wheat free diet which helped him but I could see that it was going to be a problem to carry on with his strict diet. My mother recommended that I see Vinciane to try and cure his problem so he would not be restricted in his food intake any longer.
I was very sceptical, especially after I was only given two lots of three pills to give him three weeks apart. One week after the second lot I was to introduce dairy into his diet. I cannot tell you how surprised I was that Will has been able from then on to eat ice creams and cheese without suffering the dreadful tummy aches and diarrhoea he used to have. He also does not suffer as many colds as before.
Homeopathy for hot flushes instead of HRT
I went to see Vinciane in desperation as my GP had refused to give me my usual HRT prescription on the basis that I had been on HRT for seven years and the guidelines were to stop it after such length of time because of the risk of breast cancer associated with long term use of HRT. I started to suffer horrendous hot flushes with intense sweating and the doctor could do nothing to help me.
It took three homeopathic consultations before I started to feel really better and less prone to these sudden outbursts of heat. Over the next few months they became so minimal that my sleep and my overall well-being improved fantastically.
What reflexology is
Reflexology involves massaging the reflex areas of the feet, although the same treatment can also be given to the hands. Each area of the foot is said to be like a map of the body and relates to specific parts or organs. The reflexologist works on the whole foot so that they give a holistic treatment, but in particular problem areas they may spend extra time.
The type of condition most frequently treated includes:
- neck and back pain
- digestive problems
- poor circulation
- hormone imbalances including period problems
Reflexology is, however, a holistic treatment so the whole body is treated even if you have particular symptoms.
In reflexology most pressure is applied by the thumb, although the fingers may also be used. The pressure is quite firm and shouldn’t hurt, although problem areas that show up may feel uncomfortable. The discomfort indicates imbalance in that particular part of the body. For instance the middle of the sole relates to the solar plexus (the stomach area). For most people there is tension being held here so it is likely that pressure here can feel a bit painful, but ‘a bit’ should be emphasised. Reflexology is a very relaxing treatment that can have health benefits.
Origins of reflexology
Reflexology is believed to originate from ancient Chinese medicine, like acupuncture and acupressure. Early evidence of a practice similar to reflexology is found in a tomb drawing in Saqqara, Egypt, which is dated 2500 BC, and evidence of similar types of has also been found in India and Japan.
A reflexology session
A full treatment takes about an hour with the patient sitting in a reclining chair with their feet up or lying down on a massage table. It’s so relaxing some people even fall asleep. After the session it’s important to drink lots of water to allow toxins that have been released to flush out. You can feel tired, or have a few minor symptoms following a reflexology session.
For a list of reflexologists in the UK ring the Association of Reflexologists on 0870 567 3320 or visit the website at www.aor.org.uk