In our Food For Thought series we ask the question: Are we too reliant on medication?
The functional medicine v traditional medicine debate has been gaining momentum over the past few years. With hardliners on both side who believe people need to pick an approach and stick with it. However, a recently released book might be about to straddle the divide between the two. Doctor You, written by Dr Jeremy Howick, is based on thousands of clinical-based studies and was written with the aim of empowering people on the subject.
Presenting the facts
Rather than force people to adopt one approach over the other, this book presents the facts of the trials and encourages people to draw their own conclusions. Dr Howick has spoken about his desire to arm people with the facts so they make informed decisions about their health and the health of their family. Especially around things such as what drugs to take, what drugs to give your children, and when you should let your body do its thing. This is because he believes we are too reliant on medication, stating that half of the elderly British, 20% of Americans, and two thirds of older Canadians take at least five prescription drugs per day.
Intrigued by this unique approach, we asked Dr Howick why he decided to write the book in the first place.
So Doctor You was born
“I got interested in the ideas for the book while rowing on the Canadian team in the 1990s. During one winter I developed an allergy, and the conventional medication wasn’t an option (I was worried it contained a banned substance that would result in a positive test for banned substances). As a last resort, I accepted my mother’s suggestion to meet her friend who was an herbal doctor. I was skeptical, but I had nothing to lose, so I visited her. She took an interest in my allergies as well as other things going on in my life. We talked about my symptoms, the stress of being ill, and the competitiveness of top-level rowing. After an hour, I felt very calm and she gave me her prescription. She told me to keep my head and neck warm, and to drink ginger tea twice per day.
“I didn’t believe her treatment would work, but figured wearing a scarf and hat was a good thing during winter in Canada, and ginger tea wouldn’t kill me. I gave it a try. After three days, I was almost completely better and could sleep and train properly again.”
Searching for answers
“This got my inherently inquisitive mind racing. (I was that annoying kid who asks their teachers and parents ‘Why?’ all the time.) Did ginger tea work because I believed it might—in other words, had it acted as a placebo? If it was ‘just’ a placebo, did that matter if it helped? Had the calming effect of the herbal doctor taking time to listen to me made the difference? … Searching for answers to these questions ignited a fascination that has shaped my life ever since.
“I have now done ten years of research in this area, and I have stuck firmly to conventional scientific studies (mostly ‘systematic reviews of randomised trials’, which I describe in a fun way in the book). I’ve found answers to many of my questions:
- Placebos can be (almost) as good as drugs for moderate pain, anxiety, and depression.
- Doctors who give positive messages to patients can reduce pain by as much as most over-the-counter drugs.
- Empathic doctors can reduce the effects of many common symptoms.
- Placebos can work even if doctors tell patients they are placebos.
- Most UK doctors have prescribed a placebo at least once in their career.
- Spending quality time with friends, family, and social groups can add up to 5 years to your life.
“Basically, most of us need far less medicine (conventional or alternative) than we actually take.
“Unfortunately, the science backing up these claims has generally been restricted to academic journals that are written in a way that few read and fewer understand. I’ve always been inspired by teaching and coaching, so naturally I wanted to share what I learned.”
Jeremy Howick is an Oxford researcher with over 75 publications and a classic textbook, to his name. He is a world-renowned placebo researcher and his work has been featured in The Times and The Washington Post, as well as on Sky News, and the BBC. Doctor You is available now
For more information visit hodder.co.uk