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  1. 1. Positively Complementary HealthToday sits down with Dr Lesley Braun to discuss why and how complementary medicine is becoming more relevant in our lives. W 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 ginkgo pills. “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 complementary medicine. 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 a chat. Complements for Good Health 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) Health Bites Positively Complementary 44 HEALTHTODAY•August 2015 MHTAUG15_pg44-47_HealthBites.indd 44 7/24/15 9:31 AM
  2. 2. 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 example: zinc. 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 the world. 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 are changing. “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 manage migraine. 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 modern medications. 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. Health Bites Positively Complementary August 2015•HEALTHTODAY 45 MHTAUG15_pg44-47_HealthBites.indd 45 7/24/15 9:31 AM
  3. 3. Bones Healthy Heart 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. C 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. Dyslipidemia 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. Useful complementary medicines What they do Phytosterols & stanols Reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed, thus lowering the amount of cholesterol present. Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA, EPA) Reduces triglyceride levels significantly, hence lowering risk of heart diseases. Garlic Reduces total serum cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”). Useful complementary medicines 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 cartilage. 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. Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum) Boswellia Curcumin Clinical studies suggest that they may have beneficial effects on patients with osteoarthritis. Useful complementary medicines What they do Omega-3 fatty acids Garlic Ginger Olive oil Turmeric Red yeast rice Probiotics All of these can help reduce the inflammation that can contribute to atherosclerosis. 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 For & Health Bites Positively Complementary 46 HEALTHTODAY•August 2015 MHTAUG15_pg44-47_HealthBites.indd 46 7/24/15 9:31 AM
  4. 4. Ginkgo Ginseng 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? Mental performance and cognition 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 women. Hypertension Too early to tell; studies are still at preliminary stage. Key clinical uses What does science say? Cerebrovascular insufficiency Positive results found. Dementia Improvement in cognitive performance seen in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Improved memory and ability to recall in people without dementia Small amount of evidence; more research needed. 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 as memory. Sarah Culverhouse Naturopath, Blackmores Institute Health Educator & Trainer and On Health Bites Positively Complementary August 2015•HEALTHTODAY 47 MHTAUG15_pg44-47_HealthBites.indd 47 7/24/15 9:31 AM