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   Mar 02

The ten ‘quack’ cures that actually work!

He’s known as one of alternative medicine’s fiercest critics, devoting decades to debunking myths of what he calls ‘quack medicine’. In his new book, A Scientist In Wonderland: A Memoir Of Searching For Truth And Finding Trouble, no one from the world of alternative medicine is safe from Professor Edzard Ernst’s firing line.

He claims chiropractors and osteopaths are filling the public’s head with ‘bogus’ claims about the benefits of spinal manipulation. And he adds that homeopathy is at best useless, and at worst life-threatening.

But there are some alternative treatments that Prof Ernst, the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, says do get results.

Back in shape: Yoga is a proven way to help beat lumbar pain, says Professor Ernst

‘Many treatments are useless and very few do more good than harm,’ he says. ‘It is essential you consult your doctor before trying anything new, but the scientific evidence is there to show these treatments do work.’

Here, Prof Ernst offers Mail on Sunday readers his definitive list of 12 complementary treatments proven to work on ten common conditions, all backed by sound, medical evidence…

Cut cholesterol

Condition: High cholesterol

Treatment: Soy protein

Studies have found that soy can make small reductions in low-density lipoprotein or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels by stimulating the liver to break down cholesterol.

Prof Ernst says: ‘Millions of us are trying to lower our cholesterol, and soy is a proven way to do that. Lots of products are abundantly available, such as soy capsules, soya milk and tofu. You can make small reductions with soy, but conventional medicines such as statins are the only way to make a significant difference.’

Studies have found that soy can make small reductions in‘bad’ cholesterol levels by stimulating the liver to break down cholesterol. Lots of products are available including tofu (pictured)

Muscle for relaxation

Condition: Anxiety

Treatment: Music therapy

Prof Ernst says evidence shows that music therapy, whether it’s playing an instrument or simply listening to music, can help to reduce anxiety.

Studies have shown that soothing music can have a positive effect on heart rate, and can be particularly beneficial to patients in reducing anxiety related to brain injury and cancer.

Soothe swollen legs

Condition: Chronic venous insufficiency

Treatment: Horse chestnut

Chronic venous insufficiency occurs when poor blood flow in the veins interferes with the way the skin exchanges oxygen, nutrients and waste products with the blood. It can cause swelling, tightness, heavy legs and pain with walking.

Horse chestnut contains the inflammation-reducing chemical aescin. A study of 240 people over three months found horse chestnut was as effective as compression stockings – a standard treatment – at reducing swelling.

Prof Ernst says: ‘Horse chestnut helps to improve capillary flow and vascular tone by contracting the tiny muscles behind the veins, so they do not dilate.’

Banish back pain

Condition: Back ache

Treatment: Yoga and massage

Evidence shows that yoga is a particularly effective treatment for chronic or recurrent lower back pain. A UK study of 313 chronic back pain patients on a 12-week yoga programme designed to boost mobility, strength, posture and reduce pain showed improvements.

Soft-tissue massage can be effective in easing chronic lower back pain in the short term.

Prof Ernst says: ‘Clinical trials show both the postural exercises in yoga and massage will help with back pain, but it needs to be done in conjunction with conventional medicine.’

Soft-tissue massage can be effective in easing chronic lower back pain in the short term, says Prof Ernst

Lower blood pressure

Condition: High blood pressure

Treatment: Coenzyme Q10

This is a compound found in every cell and symptoms of deficiency include heart failure, high blood pressure and chest pain. Clinical studies have shown that boosting your coenzyme Q10 levels with supplements lowers blood pressure, but may take up 12 weeks to have an effect. Prof Ernst says: ‘The evidence is overwhelmingly positive that it helps lower high blood pressure, but it isn’t as effective as mainstream medication.’

Beat the blues

Condition: Depression

Treatment: St John’s wort

Studies have shown it is beneficial in the treatment of mild-to-moderate depressive illness in adults. Hypericin and hyperforin, chemicals found in the plant, have been shown to help regulate mood.

St John’s wort is available as tablets and capsules, tea or a tincture. It can interact with other over-the-counter and prescription medicines.

Prof Ernst says: ‘This is a very well-known remedy for depression. There are more than 40 clinical trials that show it is effective in the treatment of the condition.’

Protect your prostrate

Condition: Enlarged prostate

Treatment: African plum and saw palmetto

As men age, the cells of the prostate begin to swell, which increases the size of the prostate. This isn’t usually serious, but can put pressure on your urethra, making going to the bathroom difficult.

Prof Ernst says: ‘An enlarged prostate can cause incontinence, but also poor urine flow.

‘Both African plum and saw palmetto contain chemicals that help decrease inflammation in the prostate, making it easier to go to the toilet as normal.’

Help for diabetics

Condition: Type 2 diabetes

Treatment: Guar gum

This glue-like substance from the seed of the guar plant contains fibres called glucomannans and galactomannans. ‘Guar gum can help slow down the amount of sugars absorbed in the stomach and intestines,’ says Prof Ernst.

‘It is used to treat patients with type 2 diabetes, who are unable to produce enough insulin to cope with sugars.’

Feeling queasy? Try this

Condition: Nausea

Treatment: Acupuncture

A study at Adelaide University of 600 pregnant women found that 20 minutes a week of acupuncture – the Chinese practice of the insertion of very fine needles into the skin – focusing on points on the forearm or abdomen reduced nausea.

Studies have shown acupuncture as an effective treatment for morning sickness, patients undergoing chemotherapy and for post-operative nausea

Prof Ernst says: ‘One of the theories is that acupuncture can help stimulate feelgood chemicals in the brain, leading to feelings of nausea subsiding.

Studies have shown it to be effective for morning sickness, patients undergoing chemotherapy and for post-operative nausea.’

Get a good night’s sleep

Condition: Insomnia

Treatment: Melatonin

The hormone melatonin helps regulate the wake/sleep cycle by activating chemical receptors in the brain that encourage sleep. Melatonin is also popular with long-haul travellers as a jet lag aid.

Prof Ernst says: ‘Studies have shown that taking melatonin really does regulate your body clock, so it is worth trying if you have trouble sleeping.’

Melatonin is currently available only on prescription to people over the age of 55.

The hormone melatonin can be used to treat insomnia and is also popular with travellers as a jet lag aid

Source: Daily Mail

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