We are often asked about various natural remedies for conditions as well as standard preparations available on prescription. In fact quite a lot of tablets and other drugs used today are derived from naturally occurring compounds.
GARLIC EXTRACTS: The use of garlic either in the diet or as health supplement capsules has been in the news for a long time. The theory is that garlic is protective against the effects of high blood fats in causing atherosclerosis or damage to the inside of the arteries which causes heart attacks and strokes.
There is some supportive evidence from various clinical experiments to support these theories. The interest in garlic as a means of protecting the arteries comes from the so called ‘French paradox’ which is the observation that people in southern France eat a diet full of saturated animal fats (thought to be bad for causing heart attacks) but surprisingly have a low level of heart disease. The active ingredient in garlic is thought to be allicin which may act to relax the muscles in the blood vessels and also make the blood less ‘sticky’.
RED WINE: Interest in the health properties of red wine also stems from the ‘French Paradox’. Compounds in red wine called polyphenols are thought to have anti-oxidant properties which reduce atherosclerosis. The wines with the highest levels of polyphenols are the dark reds made from the Malbec and Tannat grape varieties. Madiran and Cahors wines produced in the south of France have high levels of polyphenols, as do wines from Argentina and Chile. As enthusiastic consumers of red wine, Mr Sweeney and Mr Chaloner certainly feel that it benefits health and wellbeing, although it is very important to remember that red wine also contains a lot of alcohol and taken in excess this can damage your health in other ways – so stick to the recommended daily limits!
RED VINE LEAF EXTRACT: A spin off from the theories about red wine – plant chemicals extracted from the leaves of vines have been credited with all sorts of benefits including relief of aching legs from varicose veins. We are quite sceptical about these claims.
ASPIRIN: Although aspirin is a well known and widely used drug it is also derived from plants – it is a synthetic variant of an extract of willow bark. The first Western description of it was written by a vicar called Edward Stone in 1763 although it wasn’t until the 1970s that aspirin was identified as the active compound by Sir John Vane who won a Nobel Prize for this. Aspirin is one of the most useful drugs known to medicine. Taken in low doses (150 mg per day) it reduces the ‘stickiness’ of the blood and reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes. In higher doses it is used as a simple painkiller.
OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS: These are types of dietary fats that are thought to have effects in protecting against heart disease and other disorders. Debate still goes on in the scientific community about whether they really are of benefit or not. Omega 3 fatty acids can be bought as capsules but they often leave a nasty taste in the mouth after swallowing them. A better way to get them into your diet is by eating plenty of the right type of fish. Salmon, mackerel, sardines and fresh tuna all have high levels of omega 3 fatty acids – and they taste better too!
STATIN TABLETS: It is perhaps not surprising that statin tablets are also originally derived from plant compounds – in this case the first statin compound to be made into a commercially available drug was lovastatin which was derived from a fungus called aspergillus terraeus. Statins are very useful in stabilising the fatty plaques that build up inside arteries and for the most part have very few side effects. They are however only available on prescription.
ARNICA: Arnica is a plant extract derived from a plant called Arnica Montana, which is a member of the daisy family of flowers. It is available in tablets and gels from most high street chemists as well as healthfood shops and is one of the most popular homeopathic remedies.
A variety of claims are made for the properties of arnica and quite a lot of doctors are sceptical about it. However, many of our patients tell us that it does help with resolving the pain and bruising after surgery, so we tend to recommend it on that basis.
IBULEVE GEL: This is a topical preparation made up of 10% ibuprofen. It can be rubbed onto areas of bruising or soreness after surgery. It works very well and can be bought over the counter without a prescription. Caution must be exercised when using it in tandem with Voltarol tablets which we commonly prescribe after surgery – the two can be used together but in carefully controlled doses.
BIO-OIL: This is an oil which contains a variety of compounds said to improve scarring and skin blemishes. It is quite expensive to buy but a lot of people say it speeds up healing of scars after surgery. The reasons it works are not clear but it may be due to the anti-oxidant properties of some of the constituent parts.
VITAMIN E OIL: Vitamin E oil is commonly used as a food supplement and sold in capsules. However, if the capsules are broken open and applied to scars and bruises they seem to clear up faster. Again the anti-oxidant effects are thought to be the active ingredient. We certainly recommend it to our patients.