The Anti-cancer Gene

Our built-in super hero

In all humans, there is a special gene which creates a protein called “Tumor protein p53“. This little protein is sometimes referred to as the “guardian gene” because it protects DNA from the mutations which cause cancer. It does this by activating DNA repair proteins and pausing the cell growth cycle for long enough that problems in the DNA can be discovered and corrected. If the DNA is damaged beyond repair, then this protein will ‘push the self-destruct button’ of the cell; a process called apoptosis, thus preventing the damaged DNA from being passed on to the cell’s offspring.

In order for Cancer to develop, there needs to be a bunch of specific changes to the DNA which accumulate over multiple cell divisions as mutations. These changes activate what are referred to as “oncogenes“, which are genes that cause the cancerous behaviour of cells. Now, when the guardian protein is doing its job, these dangerous changes to the DNA are not allowed to continue. Conversely, when cancer does develop, often this gene is one of the first things to be switched off.

So how do we switch it back on?

The “On” Switch

The beauty of natural medicine is that it supports health. Thus, rather than trying to kill cancer cells with harsh radiation, or poisonous chemotherapy, a naturopathic approach assists the body in strengthening the natural defences against cancer. In the case of damage to the DNA resulting in the deactivation of our guardian gene, there are some natural ways to reactivate it, effectively “flipping the on switch”.

Some examples of botanicals which have this ability are:

  • Capsaicin, the active component in chilli peppers [1].
  • Green Tea Polyphenols (EGCG) [2].
  • Curcumin, the active compound in Turmeric [3].

Another problem that should be addressed is the suppression of the guardian gene in the first place. Often, this gene is switched off by the MDM2 protein. Luckily for us, there are also some natural ways to prevent this.

Some examples of botanicals which prevent the MDM2-p53 interaction are:

Closing Remarks

Whilst naturopathic medicine is very useful in both preventing and treating cancer, some important points should be kept in mind. Firstly, you should not rely on Naturopathic medicine to cure cancer alone. It can be very useful in conjunction with conventional treatments or used by itself when conventional medicine has run out of options. Secondly, do not try and self-medicate with natural products. There are naturopaths out there that specialise in oncology. Seek out expert guidance. 

There is a common misconception that natural medicine is safe. This is not at all true. For example, with EGCG in Green Tea, you would need to drink five cups of green tea to get a therapeutic dose of EGCG. However, this would be quite bad for your health due to the high caffeine content and the potential depletion of Vitamin E in the liver and kidneys. A trained naturopath can assist you in using these natural products correctly, and in a safe way.


  1. Reactivation of mutant p53 by capsaicin
  2. Pro-apoptotic and migration-suppressing potential of EGCG, and the involvement of AMPK in the p53-mediated modulation of VEGF and MMP-9 expression
  3. The effects of turmeric (curcumin) on tumour suppressor protein (p53) and estrogen receptor (ERα) in breast cancer cells
  4. Natural products targeting the p53-MDM2 pathway and mutant p53: Recent advances and implications in cancer medicine

Conquering the Common Cold

The common cold – such an innocent-sounding ailment – is to blame for around 40% of all time off from work, and about 30% of school absenteeism. And it certainly is quite common; adults can expect to get between 4 to 6 colds per year, and children about 6 to 8. Despite the pervasiveness of this disease, there is little consensus on how to define, diagnose and treat it. [1] In this post I’d like to talk about what exactly is the Common Cold, discuss some common misconceptions and then look at what we can do about it from a Naturopathic perspective.

What is a Cold?

I notice that there is a lot of uncertainty about what is the difference between a cold and the flu. Quite simply, the flu is an infection by an influenza virus (from where the common name “flu” comes from). The “common cold”, on the other hand, is also a viral infection, but it could be one of hundreds of different viruses which cause the infection (rhinoviruses being the most common). It is generally understood that a cold occurs when the body is run down and the immune system is weakened to the extent that viruses which normally are no threat are able to overcome the body’s normal defence systems and cause an infection.

Common Misconceptions

1 – Inflammation is the enemy

When we are sick with a cold and flu, the symptoms are as a result of the inflammatory processes in the body. Something I consistently see in the medical community is a reflex of suppressing these inflammatory processes. A patient arrives at their family doctor with a cough, and the doctor prescribes cough syrup. A patient has a sore throat, and the doctor prescribes a throat spray. What these “treatments” accomplish is to suppress healthy systems in the body. For example, throat sprays often constrict blood vessels in the throat so that the immune cells cannot get into the infected tissue which then traps the killed microbes in mucus to be taken out of the body through coughing. So you use these “cold and flu treatments” and feel better because the inflammatory processes are suppressed. However, it is those same inflammatory processes which are trying to get rid of the bad microbes trying to overtake your body. Suppressing inflammation just serves to temporarily make you feel better whilst at the same time prolonging the illness in many cases. It does not address the underlying causes: weak immune system and microbial infection. We need to understand that these symptoms are our friends, not our enemies! [4]

2 – Vitamin C to the rescue!

When people (including many Medical Doctors) think of treating the common cold, the first thing that comes to mind is Vitamin C, and lots of it. This is, in part, due to the Nobel Laureate, Linus Pauling, publishing a book in 1970 where he argued that megadoses of vitamin C should be used for treating colds. Despite a lot of research to the contrary, this idea is still in the public consciousness. Although regularly taking Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the severity of colds, it’s therapeutic use at the time of illness has been scientifically shown to be of no value [5].

3 – Good Ol’ Antibiotics

Unfortunately, a disturbing number of people (including many Medical Doctors) turn to antibiotics at the first hint of infection. However, it is a well-established fact [2] that antibiotics are of no use for treating the common cold. Unfortunately, this common practice is highly dangerous, with risks for both the individual patient (such as Dysbiosis) as well as for society at large [3].

What can be done?

Thankfully there are a number of things that can be done if we use a bit of logical reasoning and solid scientific research.

1 – Rest and Hydration

The first goal should be to help out your immune system to do its job. For this, you should rest as much as possible once the symptoms of a cold have started. Most colds will go away on their own within a few days (some symptoms may last around 3 weeks), so have patience with yourself and remember that the more you rest, the better your body can fight the infection.

You should also try and keep your throat hydrated. Note that it is not about consuming liquid, but rather about keeping your throat moist. You are essentially trying to flush away microbes from the infected areas. So for this, you can regularly sip water or herbal teas. There are some useful things to add to your drinks, such as lemon and honey. Lemon is an amazing natural disinfectant, and honey is a very versatile natural anti-microbial.

2 – Zinc

It has been discovered that Zinc lozenges have been very useful in fighting throat infections involved in the common cold [6]. It is important to use the lozenges, and not syrup or tablets, as interaction with saliva is essential for activating the zinc to exert a direct antiviral activity. The recommended lozenges to use are those containing zinc acetate or gluconate and try and avoid those containing citric acid, sorbitol or mannitol. You can take one lozenge up to every 2 hours whilst the symptoms persist.

3 – Botanical Medicine

Two herbal remedies which have proven to be of great benefit are Echinacea and South African Geranium. Echinacea is better early on in the infection, and I personally prefer to take it as a tincture with 20 drops in a small amount of water every two hours. It exerts direct local effects and is useful in all upper respiratory infections.With South African Geranium (also referred to as pelargonium), you can also take this as a tincture and has been shown to significantly reduce both the symptoms, as well as the duration of common colds [7].


[1] PubMed: Common Cold
[2] Center for Disease Control. “Antibiotic use for the Common Cold
[3] Llor & Bjerrum (2014). “Antimicrobial resistance
[4] Ptizzoccaro (2016). “The Symptom as Ally, not Enemy
[5] Hemila & Chalker (2013). “Vitamin C for preventing and treating the Common Cold
[6] Singh M, Das RR. “Zinc for the common cold“.
[7] Lizogub, Riley & Heger (2007). “Efficacy of a pelargonium sidoides preparation in patients with the common cold: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

Thoughts on Homeopathy

According to an article in the Huffington Post, the two most controversial topics on Wikipedia are “Jesus Christ” and “Homeopathy”. The first subject seems quite obvious, as religion is a well-established topic of debate. However, why would Homeopathy be surrounded by such controversy? In researching and learning about the subject of Homeopathy, it has become clear to me why there is so much debate, and why such extremes of opinions exist. In this post, I’d like to discuss both sides of this debate and share my own thoughts on the topic.

What is Homeopathy?

To start with, it is useful to first understand what Homeopathy really is. Most people I speak to make no differentiation between Homeopathy, Naturopathy or Herbal Medicine. To introduce the concept, here is how the British Homeopathic Association defines Homeopathy:

Homeopathy is a natural form of medicine used by over 200 million people worldwide to treat both acute and chronic conditions. It is based on the principle of ‘like cures like’. In other words, a substance taken in small amounts will cure the same symptoms it causes if taken in large amounts.

Notice two key characteristics here: firstly, the principle of ‘like cures like‘, and secondly, that substances are taken in small amounts. Let us first consider this idea of “like cures like”.

Like Cures Like

In conventional medicine, if your blood pressure is too high, then some chemical substance which lowers blood pressure will be given. If you are having an allergic reaction, then a substance which prevents the allergic reaction from happening is given. Here, it is clear that balance is sought through administering substances which provoke a physiological response opposite to the physiological pathology. In Homeopathy, however, substances which could cause the symptoms being treated are used as the treatment itself.

Atropa belladonna

Take, for example, a person who has a terribly high fever, which is causing hallucinations accompanied by congestion and throbbing pain. To treat this, a homoeopath might select Atropa belladonna, also known as Belladonna or Deadly Nightshade. For those unfamiliar with this plant, it is considered to be one of the most toxic plants in the eastern hemisphere. Belladonna poisoning produces hallucinations, flushing, dry mouth, headache and tachycardia. [1] Essentially, the effects of the plant mimic the symptoms experienced by the patient, and for this reason, the plant is chosen as a remedy.

Because this concept is so counterintuitive to those with a Western mindset it has become one of the main focuses of criticism by sceptics. To them, and indeed to most who come across this concept for the first time, this idea seems completely ludicrous. Their argument is that ‘like’ cannot cure ‘like’ just as you cannot put out a fire by using more fire, or warm up a cold drink by adding ice. With such an argument, it seems only logical that giving such a treatment would only exacerbate the symptoms further, and potentially kill the patient.

This idea becomes slightly less ridiculous when one thinks about how modern medicine treats cancer. Many of the treatments (chemo and radiation therapy) actually cause cancer themselves, and yet are used kill cancerous cells. Think also of how vaccinations work. The vaccine is created from the virus itself. In an analogous manner, it is argued by some Homeopaths that the medicine which provokes similar symptoms stimulates the responses of the organism, enabling it to respond to the disease. [2]

Most Homeopaths with a more classical training and background would actually argue that the framework of conventional western medicine does not allow for fully understanding the concept of ‘like cures like’. Their view is that homoeopathy treats the individual and not the disease (as conventional medicine does), and this operates on the energies of the person. [3] Now, whilst I like to keep an open mind, I also like to base my opinions on evidence. After all, without evidence, almost anything could be argued and believed. Having said that, while it is a scientific fact that there are various energy fields surrounding the body [4], there is (not to my knowledge) any research showing that homeopathic remedies affect these biofields. Thus, in my mind, this cannot be used as a rational argument.

Small Doses

The concept of ‘like cures like’ can be further understood once we understand the way in which the homeopathic medicine is prepared. This is done through an iterative process of dilution and succussion. Put simply, the plant used for the remedy (for example, Belladonna) is made into a tincture. One drop is then taken and diluted into a bottle of water and shaken vigorously. Then one drop of that diluted substance is taken and diluted into a new bottle of water and shaken vigorously. This process is repeated numerous times. Homeopaths argue that each dilution, whilst making the solution weaker, increases the potency of the effect. [3]

Once again, this idea of more diluted = more potent is quite counterintuitive and seems completely illogical to most people in the western world. Surely the less there is of a substance, the less effect it has on the human body?

To understand this from a conventional medicine perspective, consider that it is known that certain compounds have very different effects at different doses. Take Thyroid hormones as an example. In the book “Thyroid Hormones: Biosynthesis, Physiological Effects, and Mechanisms of Action” by Y. K. Turakulov (1972), an interesting biochemical phenomenon is described:

“Large doses of the hormone act on cell structures on which it does not act in much smaller concentrations… The effect of large doses can be reduced to direct action on structures which, under normal, physiological conditions, do not react to thyroid hormones.” (pg 268)

Here we see the precedent for a novel action of a compound when given in a different dose. If one were to take large doses of various hormones, they would not interact with the same structures as does the microscopic quantities found in the blood. This could be compared to the action of the microscopic quantities of the original tinctures left remaining in the final homeopathic remedy.

Avogadro’s Constant

This theory is discredited by critics, however, as the chemical principle of Avogadro’s Constant is then used to argue that there cannot possibly be even a single molecule left of the original substance. Avogadro’s Constant defines the limit to which a substance can be diluted where the original substance is lost altogether. This limit is 6.023 x 10^23, corresponding to the homeopathic potencies of 12C or 24X (1 part in 1024).

This might seem like a fatal blow for Homeopathy. After all, this is a well-established law of nature. How could anyone possibly argue with that? Well, it turns out that you cannot simply apply this neat and tidy mathematical rule to the physical practice of creating homeopathic medicine. Recent research in the field of material science has shed some new light on what is going on.


In their 2010 research paper entitled “Extreme homeopathic dilutions retain starting materials: A nanoparticulate perspective“, Chikramane et al. go on to explain that each time the dilution undergoes succussion (referred to as potentiation), cavitation causes vapour bubbles to occur, trapping particles. The authors go on to state:

“The confirmed presence of these crystalline species of starting materials or those derived from them despite the ultra-high dilutions, such as 30c and 200c was astounding, proving that the starting materials were retained even with extremely high dilutions.”

Similar findings were presented in a 2012 paper by R. Bell and M. Koithan [5] who note measurable “silica nano-particles heterogeneously dispersed in a colloidal suspension”. They point out that the quantities of these nanoparticles resemble the quantities of hormones found in our blood, which we previously stated were necessary to be at those high dilutions in order to act on specific biological structures.

A 2011 paper entitled “Homeopathy emerging as nanomedicine” by Upadhaya and Nayak concluded that:

“During the violent strokes involved in potentization, information arising from the serially diluted starting-substance might be encrypted by epitaxy on silicon-rich crystalline nanoparticles present in the resulting homeopathic medicine. The ‘size’ of the information encrypted on nanoparticles might vary together with the degree of dilution. As homeopathic medicines exhibit healing effects, these nanoparticles along with the interfacial water on their surface might carry this information – which biological systems are able to identify – to the target. As various forms of silica are known to interact with proteins and cells of the immune system, homeopathy might represent a nanomedicine system. Possible confirmation, however, requires further research in materials and interfacial water.”

From research such as this, it seems that there is a plausible, scientific basis for a mechanism of action of Homeopathic remedies. However, I am still quite sceptical of the deeply esoteric explanations offered by Classical Homeopathy.

Confusing Clinical Trials

When one tries to search for studies or clinical research done on the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies, many conflicting research can be found. Some research indicates that homeopathic remedies have the same effect as a placebo, whilst others show statistically significant results. How can this be?

To answer this question, one must first understand how Homeopaths find the “cure” (referred to as the simillimum). The Homeopath takes time to compile a detailed profile of the patient, symptoms, psychological attributes, and cases in which symptoms are better or worse. This is then matched to a remedy profile in a Materia Medica. This process is obviously quite personalised to the patient, and not at all resembles the relatively reductionist method of conventional medicine to match a disease to a drug. Because of this level of personalisation applied to treatment, the standard model of double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical research does not work, which results in non-“gold standard” research being conducted. This research is then classified by others in the medical world as low quality and discarded when performing meta analyses, and other such reviews of the literature.

My Conclusions

Although I used to quickly manifest a derogatory scoff at the thought of Homeopathy, I have come to develop an appreciation for this novel medical paradigm. Whilst I still cannot completely comprehend how it could possibly work, I have seen many examples of homeopathic remedies work for close friends and family (my wife included). There is a growing body of research providing compelling evidence for a possible mechanism of action. However, this is sharply contrasted by the rather bizarre and often irregular methods of arriving at a cure for a particular patient. In the end, I can’t help but imagine that there is something very real happening when one sucks on a homeopathic dilution sprayed onto some sugar balls that allows my wife to sleep at night. After all, many millions of people around the world make use of Homeopathy; many using it as primary care. If it was simply placebo sugar pills, could such a system of medicine have possibly become so successful?


[1] Wikipedia: Belladonna
[2] Sense about Homeopathy
[3] Classical Homeopathy
[4] Biofield Science and Healing: History, Terminology, and Concepts
[5] Bell, R., Koithan, M. (2012). “A model for homeopathic remedy effects: low dose nanoparticles, allostatic cross-adaptation, and time-dependent sensitization in a complex adaptive system“.

Great Natural Medicine Resources Online

Here are some of my favourite online resources for natural medicine.

Natural Medicine Journal

The Natural Medicine Journal is a free, online, medical journal which publishes peer-reviewed articles and reviews of scientific research into natural medicine. This is by far my favourite online source of information for natural medicine!

Naturopathic Doctor News & Review

Another excellent resource with frequently published articles on a wide range of topics. This is a rich resource for both practitioners and patients. NDNR includes current protocols, practice management, business development, marketing, clinical research, news and more.

Online Homeopathic Materia Medica

When looking up details of homoeopathic remedies, I find the online materia medica by the International Academy of Classical Homeopathy particularly useful as it allows you to compare entries across multiple resources.

Naturopathy Books I love

There are a seemingly endless plethora of books on medicinal plants, herbalism, healing foods, traditional remedies, and so forth. However, most of these books lack strong scientific evidence supporting their recommendations. Thankfully there are a few gems among these with a wealth of knowledge and based on current scientific research. Here are some of my favourites.

The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine Third Edition by Michael T. Murray and‎ Joseph Pizzorno

This book is a great resource for both practitioners as well as the general public. The authors do an amazing job of discussing each pathology, the conventional treatments and the possible treatment options. What I really appreciate is that they also deal with herbal treatments which are common but ineffective and explain as much. I think this is extremely useful, as often people will say “I saw on the internet that I should be taking x”, or “This person told me about x”. At the end of each chapter (the pathologies are ordered alphabetically and each has a dedicated chapter) is a treatment summary with a recommended treatment plan. I really love this book, and it is quite comprehensive.

Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices Of Herbal Medicine by David Hoffmann

This book beautifully blends western traditional herbalism with a modern scientific understanding of biochemistry. The introductory chapter is almost poetic and followed by very succinct and easy to understand chapters on phytochemistry, pharmacology, and toxicity and safety. After establishing this needed background knowledge, the author then goes on to examine the preparation of herbal formulations for various disorders grouped by body system. This is another great resource to deepen one’s understanding and appreciation of Vis Medicatrix Naturae.

Naturopathic Oncology Third edition by Neil McKinney

In this detailed, encyclopedic text on natural treatments for cancer, Niel McKinney ND reviews a wide variety of natural treatments of varying efficacy, from the down-right dangerous to those that are so versatile they can simultaneously attack the cancer cells, enhance the effectiveness of the chemotherapy drug and reduce its toxicity. The book begins with a very detailed overview of the pathogenesis of cancer, the biochemical and genetic abnormalities, and then goes on to provide a broad overview of conventional therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and immunotherapy. In the second half of the book, there are recommended protocols for many specific forms of cancer, as well as protocols for concurrent use with specific chemotherapies. This book brings a lot of clarity to the important and very misunderstood subject of natural treatments for cancer.

Disillusionment with the Medical Industry

Child-like Naivety

We all grow up with the idea that to be truly successful in life you need a professional job like that of a lawyer or doctor. MD’s (Medical Doctors) are highly respected, not only for the important life-saving work that they do, but also in part due to the many years of study and training that they receive. There is the inherent assumption that they hold all the knowledge and all the answers to our health problems, and it is unthinkable for the rest of us mere mortals to question them. In recent years, however, I have become increasingly disturbed by the way in which MD’s practice medicine. Having studied naturopathy, I realise that there are many very basic things that these doctors do not seem to realise.

I am not saying, however, that one should not go see your local physician when sick. There are many times when it is completely necessary. However, I am convinced that in the vast majority of cases where people go to see MD’s with common or chronic conditions (such as hypertension, high cholesterol, respiratory infections, and so on), the treatment offered is damaging and does not address the underlying cause.


I have never been one for conspiracy theories, but the more I learn about how the whole medical industry operates, the more I feel like I am living in a twisted alternate reality.

When one starts examining the standard treatment for various chronic diseases by MD’s, you start realising that conventional medicine treats these cases by suppressing natural physiological processes to eliminate symptoms, rather than addressing the underlying cause. For infection, they suppress the immune response which results in the symptoms of inflammation and mucus production. For high blood pressure, they suppress the ACE enzymes. For high cholesterol, they suppress the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme. For diabetes, they suppress glucose production by the liver. Surely for infection, you would want to use an antimicrobial? Surely for high blood pressure, you would want to correct the diet and increase exercise? Surely for high cholesterol, you would want to support liver health and correct a problematic diet? Surely for diabetes, you would want to control sugar intake and support the pancreas and balance insulin sensitivity? So why does conventional medicine work in this way? Or at the very least, why not a combination of suppressing symptoms as well as supporting healthy processes?

To understand this, let us consider the training of MD’s. The most widely published medical textbooks are referred to as the Merck Manuals. These are available in a wide array of languages and are seen as the gold standard in medical care. Such an important resource for doctors should surely be produced by a leading university, or perhaps some international health organisation such as the World Health Organisation (WHO). One might think this, but one would be wrong. Oh so wrong. In fact, the Merck Manuals are published by Merck & Co, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Now, perhaps that makes sense, that a pharmaceutical company would publish a book about pharmaceutical medicine. However, imagine all Engineers were trained using textbooks published by a certain concrete manufacturer. Would it not be in that concrete manufacturer’s best interest to convince the engineers that concrete is much better than wood or steel for almost all structures? After all, the more engineers that choose concrete over other building materials would result in more money in the concrete company’s pocket. But this doesn’t mean that the structures are built in the best way possible. Isn’t the same conflict of interest present in a pharmaceutical company teaching doctors how to treat disease?

“Start ’em young!”

The most common reason children are seen by a paediatrician is for otitis media (ear infections). This is something that will usually resolve by itself within 2 weeks. Despite this, high doses of antibiotics are almost always prescribed and sometimes surgical options are considered for recurrent infections. This is despite much research showing that antibiotic use is no more effective than bed rest and the well-established fact that frequent prescription of antibiotics leads to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. In fact, the use of antibiotics is much more damaging in most cases than bed rest, as it can lead to dysbiosis within the digestive system (where most of our immune system resides), never mind the superbug apocalypse.

But how would Merck and other such companies make money if doctors just prescribed bed rest? That is simply ridiculous!

War of the Patents

You see, pharmaceutical companies rely on patented drugs to make them money, as this offers them a kind of monopoly for a few years on a particular type of treatment, before other companies are then allowed to develop generics at a reduced cost (due to increased competition). Unfortunately for the pharmaceutical industry, it is almost impossible to patent a natural product. And so, when there is a competing viable treatment using plants that any old person can just go and grab off the hillside, why would Merck mention something like that in their textbook rather than promote their drug which treats the same disease, but also makes them rich?

I think the majority of people have a strong belief that natural medicine is something almost mystical, without scientific proof, and is thus relegated to the realms of druids and hill-folk. Whilst I completely agree that there is an unfortunate amount of con-artistry and mysticism amongst alternative medical practitioners, this does not equate to there being no evidence to support herbal and botanical medicine. That is like saying “because there are so many manufacturers of imitation designer clothes, the whole fashion industry is a sham”. Such a statement would be ludicrous.

Metformin verse Goldenseal

Take, for example, the drug Metformin by BMS which is often used to control blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes type 2. It comes with a host of side effects, as is common in the chronic medication of this kind. Now let’s contrast this with the humble plant Hydrastis canadensis, commonly known as Goldenseal. This plant contains a molecule known as Berberine, which has been extensively researched. In 2009, Yin et al. published a study in which they compared the use of Metformin with Berberine for the treatment of diabetes type 2.  They report that:

Compared with metformin, berberine exhibited an identical effect in the regulation of glucose metabolism, such as HbA1c, FBG, PBG, fasting insulin and postprandial insulin. In the regulation of lipid metabolism, berberine activity is better than metformin. By week 13, triglycerides and total cholesterol in the berberine group had decreased and were significantly lower than in the metformin group (P<0.05).

One need just search PubMed for “berberine diabetes mellitus” to realise that this is not an isolated study.

So why are diabetic patients not told about this by their family physicians and endocrinologists? I think there are a number of reasons. Firstly – and most simply – these MD’s are just not aware of the research into natural medicine. The field of medicine is huge, and there is so much research being generated, that it is almost impossible for doctors to keep up with all the relevant research from all sub-disciplines. Secondly, MD’s are not taught about natural medicine, and their textbooks most certainly will not recommend such treatments. Thirdly, a lot of effort is made to discredit natural medicine. One need only google “Is Natural Medicine Safe?” to see a confusing melange of contradictory opinions and misleading information from both sides. Lastly, it could be dangerous for doctors to recommend treatments which are outside of their scope of practice. Imagine the implications for a doctor if they recommend something natural, and then get sued if something goes wrong. Would their professional insurance cover them in such a case? Would it be more likely that they lose their medical license as a result?

Recently a family member saw an ophthalmologist for normal-tension glaucoma. He mentioned the benefits of Ginkgo Biloba, but in such an apologetic manner one would think he had just told a dirty joke. It is sad that, even when doctors know about the benefits of such natural medicine, they are not entirely free to prescribe this. And of course it would be hard to find a medical aid scheme that would reimburse such a thing!

Questions, questions, and more questions

For the average patient, how can they know what to do amidst this whirlwind of conflicting information about conventional and natural medicine? I have no idea. The best I can come up with is to just try and educate yourself about both sides of the story, and ask a LOT of questions to whomever you choose to treat you. I wish doctors would say something like “I am going to prescribe this because the most recent research supports it for these reasons…”. In reality, MD’s only let patients speak for a few seconds before rushing to scribble out a prescription and then on to the next one in the production line. Despite this, I think patients need to be more firm in demanding an explanation from their doctors. Ask questions, such as “why are you prescribing this?”, “Are there natural alternatives?”…. and the most fear-inspiring question for doctors…. “What is the NNT for this medication?”

Now, the NNT (Number Needed to Treat) is the number of patients who need to take the medication before one person is treated. Wat?

Let’s rephrase. If we take the example of statin drugs used to prevent heart disease, the statistics are fairly frightening. The NNT is 1 in 60. That means that if 60 people take statins, then 1 person will be helped in preventing a heart attack…. But…. but…. But you thought drugs do what they are marketed as doing? Not always. What is worse is that the Number of patients Harmed by taken statins is 1 in 50 (that develop diabetes) and 1 in 10 (that suffer muscle damage). This means that one is more likely to develop diabetes and suffer muscle damage than to have the desired effect of taking the drug.

This is not to say that pharmaceutical drugs do not have their place. My point is that there is so much misinformation, both among professionals as well as patients, that pharmaceutical drugs are overprescribed, and natural medicine is not given a chance.

I don’t see this situation changing anytime soon, but I do think that more and more people every day are starting to educate themselves on these topics and make more informed decisions. Thankfully technology is making this easier to do than ever before. But this is a double-edged sword, as there is also more conflicting “evidence” than ever before. We all need to realise that health is a personal responsibility. We need to educate ourselves in an unbiased manner. We need to be sure that we accept a treatment because we think it is the best for us, not because someone with MD after their name says it is.

If we want to change this situation, we need to change our way of thinking. We need to accept personal responsibility for our decisions and our choice of treatment. We need to take control and not be blindly led along. If we do this, I believe we can be happier and healthier.

My Path to Natural Medicine

I was always a sickly child. Although I enjoyed sports, particularly swimming, as a child, I would regularly fall ill with upper respiratory tract infections. When I was 12, I was diagnosed with a heart condition (Atrial Septal Defect) which resulted in heart surgery to seal the hole, followed by 3 years where I was not allowed to do sport. I quickly put on weight and turned my attention to music and reading. In adulthood, the frequent infections, palpitations, migraines, stomach cramps and high blood pressure resulted in very frequent visits to doctors, and far too many tablets to swallow each day.

I have always been passionate about learning, and a number of years ago I started collecting and studying medical textbooks on Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, and so on. One day, whilst searching for an online course I could take in the medical field, I came across the field of Naturopathy. Up until that point the words ‘Naturopathy’, ‘Homeopathy’, ‘Alternative Medicine’, ‘Complementary Medicine’, ‘Herbalism’ all sort of meant the same to me, and I didn’t really know what the difference was. The more I read, the more I was intrigued. So off I went and started taking course after course on everything from Shiatsu and Sports Massage, to Clinical Nutrition and Herbal Medicine. A whole new world of information was opening up to me.

Towards the end of that year (2015) I became terribly ill with yet another upper airway infection, severe enough that I had lost my voice. So as per usual, off I trotted to the local MD to be ‘cured’. He took my temperature, looked in my throat, and gave me some antibiotics and a throat spray. I took the antibiotics and started using the throat spray immediately, and as would be expected, the symptoms started to fade. However, one week later and they returned with a vengeance. I then went to see a second MD for help. This time, she gave me cortisone and more throat spray. A similar outcome to before. Now five weeks since the initial infection and I was desperate. I went to a third MD for help, who simply said she didn’t know what else to do, and so ordered some blood tests.

At this point, I started thinking about everything I had been learning. The more I thought about what was happening to me, and the treatment offered by these MD’s, the angrier I became. The throat sprays I was given were vaso-constrictors, which prevented the white blood cells from entering the infected tissue, which meant that the inflammatory process was interrupted, which meant that the symptoms got better, but it left the microbes to run around more freely than ever. The antibiotic was prescribed as a seemingly knee-jerk reaction and probably has done more harm than good.

When I asked myself the question: “Why am I sick?”, the answer seemed obvious. There is some sort of microbe (most likely a virus) in my chest, and my immune system is too weak to fight it off. What I really needed was to boost my immune system and an anti-microbial. Not one of the doctors asked me any questions about stress, sleeping or diet (all things that could weaken the immune system). None of them offered me anything to boost my immune system. So I started taking echinacea and propolis to enhance my immune system. Cinnamon and Cayenne as expectorants and Origanum oil and Ginger as an anti-microbial. Within three days I had my voice back and all signs of infection were gone.

It was not magic, it was just logic.

Since that moment, I have never had another chest infection, not even a cold. As soon as that familiar tingling appears at the back of my throat, out comes the echinacea to nip it in the bud, and I’m sure my daily rooibos tea with ginger, cinnamon and honey does wonders for warding off microbial assaults.

Thus began my journey in Natural Medicine.