HealthToday sits down with Dr Lesley Braun to
discuss why and how complementary medicine
is becoming more relevant in our lives.
hen Dr Lesley Braun’s
grandfather was in his
mid-80s, the man had
to undergo surgery
often due to his diabetes and heart
condition. Seeing his health struggles,
Dr Lesley recommended him some
“The result was amazing,” she recalls
with a smile. “Within 1 month, he
could walk 3km without cramping,
and his memory improved.”
However, she found that there was
considerable scepticism about the
benefits of complementary medicine
in the medical community. This,
and the benefits that she witnessed
firsthand in her grandfather, spurred
Dr Lesley to make it her personal
crusade to champion the benefits
of complementary medicine to
healthcare professionals as well as
members of the public. Today, she
is one of Australia’s most respected
authorities in science-based
Dr Lesley was in Malaysia last June
to participate in the first Asian
Blackmores Institute Symposium, and
we managed to sit down with her for
Complements for Good
What is complementary medicine?
“The term has different meanings
in different parts of the world,”
says Dr Lesley. To members of the
complementary medicine profession
such as herself, however, the phrase
usually encompasses the following:
nutrition science, food supplements,
herbal medicines and even traditional
systems such as yoga and meditation.
Dr Lesley Braun PhD
Director, Blackmores Institute
Adjunct Associate Professor, National Institute of
Complementary Medicine (University of Western Sydney)
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Complementary medicine has long
been used as a means to support
or boost one’s health. It can also
support a patient’s recovery rate
after undergoing treatments with
modern medicine. Dr Lesley offers an
The quality of the products has also
improved. Dr Lesley points out that
reputable producers often practise
stringent quality control and make
a conscious effort to source for high
quality ingredients from all over
Furthermore, there are rules set in
place by the government to ensure
that the complementary medicines
and therapies do meet a certain
standard of quality and safety.
Credible or quackery?
In the past, complementary
medicine was dismissed by many
as scientifically unproven and even
unsafe. Dr Lesley believes that times
“Every time I give a lecture at a
university, there would be a long
line of students with questions
afterwards,” she says. This is a good
sign that members of the modern
medical community are increasingly
open-minded regarding and even
accepting of complementary medicine.
As the Director of Blackmores
Institute, she and her colleagues
work closely with researchers from
the modern medical community as
well as those from the comple-
mentary medicine community. One of
the more current researches is with
a geneticist on the possible uses of
various combinations of vitamins to
Clearly, complementary medicine has
come a long way from the days of our
grandparents, and with increasing
interest from the scientific community
in this area, things will certainly be
exciting in the coming days!
But what about safety?
Dr Lesley says, “Complementary
medicine generations has been used
for many generations, such as garlic
being used by the ancient Egyptians
for treating infections.”
These days, complementary
medicine is intensively researched
in scientific laboratories using the
same methods as other forms of
medical research. We are discovering
the benefits of natural remedies, as
well as their potential side effects and
how well they work (or do not work!)
when taken alongside certain
Certain high blood
pressure or hypertension
medications, such as ACE
inhibitors and angiotensin 2
receptor antagonists or thiazide
diuretics, may reduce the zinc level in
the patient when taken long-term. To
avoid zinc deficiency and subsequent
health complications, the patient
can turn to zinc-rich foods or
zinc supplement pills.
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Let us take a closer look at how
complementary medicine can play a
positive role alongside modern medicine
when it comes to some common diseases.
omplementary medicine today is no longer the
home-made brews concocted by our grandparents
based on beliefs and assumptions passed
down from their own parents. These days,
complementary medicine is increasingly science-based, and
they are used more frequently to address common health
conditions. Let us take a look at some examples.
FOR A HEALTHY HEART
Certain complementary medicines can support and boost
heart health, when taken alongside prescribed medications.
Of course, it is still very important to practise healthy eating
and active lifestyle as well.
Let us examine the two common conditions that often lead
to heart problems, and how complementary medicines can
help in managing them.
This is a condition that sees an abnormally high level of
triglycerides and plasma cholesterol in the blood. A person
with this condition may not show any symptoms, but if it
is left unmanaged, there is an increased risk of coronary
artery disease, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease.
What they do
Phytosterols & stanols Reduces the amount of
cholesterol absorbed, thus
lowering the amount of
Omega-3 fatty acids
Reduces triglyceride levels
significantly, hence lowering
risk of heart diseases.
Garlic Reduces total serum
cholesterol and low density
lipoprotein cholesterol (“bad
What they do
Omega-3 fatty acids Anti-inflammatory; helps slow
the progression of disease,
possibly by decreasing the
rate of cartilage loss.
Glucosamine May stimulate production of
proteins that strengthen the
Chondroitin May stop the enzymes that
break down cartilage.
Vitamin D Clinical trials suggest that
400-1,000 IU daily (actual
amount depending on blood
levels) can overcome vitamin
D deficiency that causes pain
and difficulty in walking.
Clinical studies suggest that
they may have beneficial
effects on patients with
What they do
Omega-3 fatty acids
Red yeast rice
All of these can help reduce
the inflammation that can
contribute to atherosclerosis.
This is the blocking of arteries by plaque, leading to
complications such as heart attack, stroke and even death.
THE OSTEOARTHRITIS PROBLEM
Osteoarthritis is caused by degeneration of the joint,
leading to the destruction of its protective layer called
cartilage. As a result, people with this condition often
experience pain when trying to move the affected limbs.
While there is no cure, osteoarthritis can be slowed down by
proper medication and a healthy lifestyle.
Medications can also be given to manage the pain. Below is
how complementary medicine can help.
Adjunct Assoc Prof Greg Mapp
School of Pharmacy,
Griffith University, Australia
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2 commonly used medicinal herbs – are
they effective or overhyped? Let us
review the evidence.
The ginseng from Korea
Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) is one of the most
commonly used medicinal herbs in the world, for a variety
of purported health benefits.
Side effects? Rarely, as ginkgo is usually well tolerated.
There may be headache, nausea and gastrointestinal-
related complaints (indigestion, etc). There have also been
cases of unexplained bleeding, but at least 10 clinical
studies found that such bleeding has no significant impact
on one’s health.
Anything to watch out for? Since ginkgo may cause
bleeding, use with caution if you have a tendency to bleed
or if you are on anticoagulant/antiplatelet therapy. Stop
taking ginkgo if you notice any unusual bruising or bleeding.
Also, if you are on high-dose supplements, stop taking 1
week before a major surgery.
Suitable for pregnant women? Ginkgo is not recommended
for pregnant women, as there is currently not enough
research data on this.
Hold on, that’s it?
Alas, we only have space for 2 herbs! There are more,
of course, as research is similarly conducted on other
medicinal herbs, such as Echinacea, milk thistle and
even ginger. All these efforts are part of a collaborative
endeavour among researchers, nutritionists, naturopaths,
pharmacists and other key healthcare professionals to
ensure that complementary medicine is safe, effective
and reliable. HT
For more information on the
Blackmores Institute Symposium
2015, check out our News &
Chronicles coverage on page 77.
Key clinical uses What does science say?
Some research shows positive
results, but no conclusive
evidence can be obtained.
More research needed.
Sexual function, fertility
(male) and satisfaction
Positive results for both
males and females; enhances
sexual arousal in menopausal
Hypertension Too early to tell; studies are
still at preliminary stage.
Key clinical uses What does science say?
Positive results found.
Dementia Improvement in cognitive
performance seen in patients with
and ability to recall
in people without
Small amount of evidence; more
Side effects? Rarely. There are reported cases of
discomfort, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal
pain. Some experts recommend taking Korean ginseng with
food to reduce these side effects.
Anything to watch out for? Avoid taking Korean ginseng
with stimulants. Traditionally, use of Korean ginseng is
discouraged if you have an acute infection and fever.
Suitable for pregnant and lactating women? Use with
caution, but Korean ginseng is generally thought to be safe,
with no adverse effects reported.
The great ginkgo
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) has traditionally been associated
with improved mental wellness and cognitive function such
Naturopath, Blackmores Institute Health
Educator & Trainer
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