Alternative remedies your GP would recommend

Alternative therapies can be very tempting. All too often, they offer you the world - or at least a guarantee of success. But do be aware that many of these treatments aren't governed by the same strict regulations as medicines and treatments your doctor can prescribe. So their claims may be based on dubious evidence, to say the least. Some of the therapies I recommend regularly include:

Red clover

Most women suffer from hot flushes around the menopause and many are now worried about the small increased risk of breast cancer which comes with long-term HRT. Red clover isoflavone is a natural oestrogen-like compound. At a dose of 60-80 mg a day, it can help with hot flushes, and it's also safe.

St John's wort

This herbal remedy is as good as many medicines available on prescription for treating depression. But a couple of warnings:

  • It can interact with other medicines (occasionally seriously)
  • If you're considering changing from a prescribed antidepressant to St John's wort, do talk to your GP first
  • I virtually never prescribe antidepressants without also advising talking therapy. Depression can ruin your life - but counselling is a better long-term solution than tablets of any sort.

Glucosamine for osteoarthritis

You can buy glucosamine from a health food store or pharmacy. Taken at a dose of about 1500 mg a day, it may slow down the progression of osteoarthritis.

Fish oil - for just about everything!

The Food Standards Agency recommends that we should all be eating at least one portion of oily fish a day to protect our hearts - which gives us about 500 mg a day of the 'long chain' omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oils. If you've had a heart attack, it may be worth increasing that to 1 g a day. Unfortunately most plant-based versions of omega 3 just don't contain enough of the active ingredient to do the same job.

Omega 3 has also been shown to help with the symptoms of a joint problem called rheumatoid arthritis. There hasn't been enough research to show the same benefits for osteoarthritis, but it's worth a try - and it's one of the few supplements I routinely recommend.

Olive oil - outside and in

By now, we all know about the benefits for your heart of eating more olive oil and less butter and animal fat. But olive oil is great for softening earwax, too. A small amount of olive oil applied two to three times a day for four to five days may even soften the wax enough for your body to get rid of it naturally, avoiding the need for syringing.

Steam inhalations

This is the perfect example of where grandma really did know best! My patients often look at me as if I'm mad when I recommend steam for coughs. But in fact, steam is highly effective at helping you to get rid of the gunk which builds up in your lungs when you have a chest infection.

Menthol added to the water helps clear your nasal passages, but it's the steam that really makes the difference. Put a few drops of olbas oil or menthol into a bowl of steamy water, pop a towel over your head and breathe it in for 15 or 20 minutes. It's great to help clear the lungs before you go to bed - and you get a facial thrown in for free!

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