Homoeopathy; brave new world or load of nonsense?

Over-50s put more faith in the internet than in their GP and, while many may be on prescribed meds, a vast number it seems would rather go the homeopathic route.

On a rare visit to my doctor’s surgery, my GP expressed great surprise when I told her I wasn’t on any medication.

“You don’t take ANYTHING?” she asked, scrolling down through my on-screen records. I reiterated that I took nothing and said that I probably never would; that if I got ill, I’d go down the homeopathic route. She stopped scrolling and turned to look at me. She didn’t ask me whether I was insane but she didn’t really need to.

She was clearly surprised I wasn’t taking any kind of medication and this was because of my age. It made me wonder: are most people over 50 on meds then? I decided to do a quick survey, amongst my Facebook friends. I discovered that approximately 60% of my more mature FB chums are taking prescription meds.

Is homoeopathy an alternative to prescription meds?

My GP was also surprised by my mention of homeopathy. So I asked my friends another question: were any of them using homeopathy? Turns out some are, several have given it a go, and most said they would prefer to use homeopathic remedies if they were as effective as the prescription drugs.

I’d love to replace my prescription drugs with homeopathy but haven’t found anything that works as well as codeine.

Susan Murphy, 60, is a civil servant from Wigan. She suffers with hyper-mobility, scoliosis, prolapsed spinal discs and painful hip joints. She said: “I’d love to replace my prescription drugs with homeopathy and I spend a lot of time actively looking for natural painkillers, but as yet I haven’t found anything that works as well as codeine.“

Some of my ‘sample’ choose to supplement their prescribed drugs with homeopathic remedies and others – about 15% – wouldn’t touch pharmaceutical drugs, even if their lives depended on it. Literally.

One extremely fit and healthy 76-year-old respondent commented: “I haven’t done pharmaceuticals for 35 years. I now deploy natural techniques and take natural medicine to maintain my health.”

Michelle Kirsch, a 51-year-old stay-at-home mum from London takes two types of medication for depression and anxiety: “I’ve tried homeopathy, but it didn’t work. That doesn’t mean I won’t try it again. I’d prefer not to be filling my body up with chemicals but, for now, that’s the way it has to be.”

She’s also tried homeopathy to alleviate symptoms of the menopause. “I’ve tried several herbal remedies for the menopause,” she says. “They weren’t completely unsuccessful, but they didn’t cure me either.”

Is there a way to combine the two?

Dr. Bob Leckridge, who worked as a GP for 17 years, has observed that over-50s are indeed making a move away from traditional remedies. It’s older women in particular, he says, who are shunning pharmaceutical drugs, especially when it comes to dealing with the menopause. He says that while most allopathic doctors seem to treat the menopause as an illness, homeopathic practitioners see it as a natural process in a woman’s life.

Dr. Leckridge, who since 1995 has worked as a specialist in homeopathic medicine at Glasgow Homoeopathic Hospital says: “Trying to not have a menopause by taking artificial hormones in the form of HRT for the rest of a woman’s life has been shown to cause many problems, including increasing the risk of several life-threatening diseases.”

Allopathic doctors seem to treat the menopause as an illness, whereas homeopathic practitioners see it as a natural process.

He claims that there is no such thing as “homeopathic HRT” however. Instead, a homeopathic doctor will try to find the best remedy for each individual woman.

Doing their own research is what’s causing internet-savvy Generation X-ers to move away from their doctors’ surgeries and towards finding alternative solutions. High-profile celebrities are using homeopathy too; Prince Charles has never made a secret of his championing of complementary therapies and the Queen’s physician, Dr. Peter Fisher, believes that homeopathy should be prescribed alongside traditional medicines. As Clinical Director and Director of Research at the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, he claims that homeopathy is ‘safe’ and that it reduces the need for antibiotics.

Is it foolhardy to go the alternative route?

A friend of mine was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago at the age of 50. He decided against having chemo and is still alive. He still has lung cancer and is struggling, but he firmly believes that had he agreed to have the chemo and radiotherapy the medics offered, he wouldn’t be alive today. He told me that he’d discovered that chemotherapy has a 3% success rate. “Why would anyone agree to a treatment that’s known to have a 97% failure rate?” he asked me, rhetorically.

Allopathic doctors, on the other hand, are worried about the way people are shunning traditional treatments. Many believe that, despite the NHS setting up and funding two homeopathic hospitals in the UK, homeopathic remedies simply don’t work. Critics of homeopathy claim that its only benefits are in the mind, with a Lancet study concluding that homeopathy was no more effective than the standard sugar pill given as a placebo in clinical trials.

This is reinforced on the NHS website, which states that ”Homeopathy is a ‘treatment’ based on the use of highly diluted substances, which practitioners claim can cause the body to heal itself” and followed by a disclaimer which reads: 2010 House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on homeopathy said that homeopathic remedies perform no better than placebos, and that the principles on which homeopathy is based are “scientifically implausible”. This is also the view of the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies.

A report stated that homeopathic remedies perform no better than placebos…

 The very same Dame was quoted in a Telegraph article saying she was “perpetually surprised” homeopathy was provided on the NHS. She adds: “I’m very concerned when homeopathic practitioners try to peddle this way of life…” and concluded by remarking that homeopathy “is rubbish”.

It is estimated that the NHS spends around £4 million a year on homeopathic treatments. In March this year, the health service vowed to clamp down on the prescribing of ‘ineffective, unnecessary, inappropriate or unsafe’ treatments,” but homeopathy was not included.

Sandra Gidley, chairwoman of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “We are surprised that homeopathy, which has no scientific evidence of effectiveness, is not on the list for review. We are in agreement with NHS England that products with low or no clinical evidence of effectiveness should be reviewed with urgency.”

Other experts agree. Britain’s foremost professor of complementary medicine Professor Edzard Ernst of Exeter University says the use of state funding to provide a treatment which works no better than a placebo cannot be justified. He says that homoeopathy can actually be very dangerous, especially when it is substituted for orthodox treatments of proven efficacy.

In a recent bid to get homeopathy banned, Dr. Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology, said: “The UK spends literally billions of pounds every year ensuring that the new and existing conventional medicines we take are effective, safe and fit for purpose. It makes no sense to allow other treatments to be made available through public expenditure without application of the same rigorous standards. That is what is happening with homeopathic treatments. It needs to stop.”

Some people go along with this view, believing that the medications prescribed by men in white coats are the only truly effective ones and that trying anything alternative is madness. But are these ‘blind faith’ types a dying breed? And are the Baby Boomers on to something? Only time, and some new statistics perhaps, will tell…

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Jacqui Deevoy

Working as a freelance journalist for 33 years, Jacqui started at...

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