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PJ Online homeThe Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 273 No 7308 p83
17 July 2004

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· Dispensing
· Natural therapies
· Peak flow meters
· The Society

Letters to the Editor

Natural therapies

Time to start thinking “outside the tablet box”

From Mr I. Jackson, MRPharmS

I read with dismay Peter Penson’s letter (PJ, 3 July, p21) concerning the dubious nature of natural products. When he qualifies I suggest he does three things:

(i) look at the shelves of the average pharmacy and determine the evidence base behind many of the conventional medicines he will be selling/dispensing;

(ii) visit his local hospital and witness the number of hospital admissions due to adverse reactions to conventional drugs; and

(iii) take a trip to the Continent and see how natural therapies are integrated into mainstream health care and community pharmacies.

Mr Penson talks about extracting the active ingredients from herbs and marketing them as conventional pharmaceuticals. Many herbs contain a wide range of active ingredients which act in a variety of ways rather than just at one receptor — the concept of herbal polyvalency. A good example would be mistletoe (Viscum album) which is one of the most widely used oncological treatments in Germany. Its various active ingredients prevent DNA/RNA synthesis, stimulate the production of natural T killer cells and cytokines such as interleukins 1 and 6 and TNF-a. It works with the body’s immune system rather than against it.

We spend less than 1 per cent of the NHS budget on alternative therapies. This is hardly surprising when we have a Department of Health which looks starry-eyed at the pharmaceutical industry, allowing patent extensions through stereoisomers, oral melts and modified release formulations.

The US now spends $100m annually on randomised controlled trials into natural medicines. I cannot find a figure for the UK. With 18 million allergy suffers in the UK and cancer rates increasing, I suggest that Mr Penson and the rest of the professional start to “think outside the tablet box”.

Ian Jackson
Mansfield, Nottinghamshire

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