What I have learnt from the episodes so far

  • Many New Zealanders (or at least many of those appearing on this TV show) appear to have poor diets
  • If it a condition is even vaguely muscular then give them magnesium
  • Many people ignore, or at least don’t fully follow the advice of doctors

In episode 5 we met Ben, a 24 year old athlete who has had to restrict his activity due to back pain. Having previously consulted several chiropractors (with no benefits), a physiotherapist (some relief) and using the anti-inflammatory, Voltaran (little effect) he came to Dr Pitsilis for advice. During the consultation it came out that a previous physiotherapist had identified issues with his hip flexors and weak abdominal muscles, though it is not clear whether this was followed up with a suitable exercise programme. His diet was identified as high in starch and sugar and too low in protein, something I found quite surprising for someone who had been a high achieving athlete. Dr Pitsilis also identified that his testosterone levels were lower than expected. After prescribing Ben “anti-stress” herbs (winter cherry, ginseng and rhodiola and having him consult a sports physiotherapist for strengthening exercises as well as improving his diet, Ben felt better but was still experiencing the same level of pain. Dr Pitsilis then prescribed testosterone cream, and after a few more weeks the pain had cleared.

So a conventional medical approach (physiotherapy) plus a drug (testosterone), plus patience dealt to the pain, while an improvement in diet improved his sense of wellbeing (I’ll come back to the “anti-stress” herbs later).

Sara, 42 had for many years suffered from painful endoemetrisosis, which hadn’t been helped by a botched surgery to help it, where the bowel was nicked and major surgery was required to save her life. In consulting Dr Pitsilis, Sara did not want to use drugs, so “bio-identical” progesterone was suggested, alongside dietary changes including fish oil, a gluten and dairy free diet, and various “herbs” – boswellia, ginger, curcumin and quercetin (note – the last two “herbs” are not herbs but specific compounds extracted from herbs).

After making these changes, Sara experienced an increase in pain and sensitivity which was put down to the progesterone. This is not surprising as whether or not it is “bio-identical” progesterone is a drug. Dr Pitsilis responded to this change by pointing out that “even a so-called natural therapy can upset people” and suggested the use of the contraceptive pill instead. However, Sara found that just the changes in diet and supplements were enough to improve her quality of life – a good result.

In each case I have seen in this programme, the “integrative” doctor prescribes multiple changes making it difficult to pinpoint which components are having an effect on the patients health.

Herbal mixtures are made up of hundreds of different compounds, of which only a small minority will have a beneficial effect. The amount of these compounds can vary from batch to batch which, in my opinion, makes herbs a potentially less reliable approach. However, there is some evidence that synergistic effects of compounds in some herbal remedies might have benefits. At the moment there is some evidence for the successful use of herbs such as ginseng in treating specific conditions such as diabetes but there is no scientific evidence I can find that some of the herbal mixtures listed above are effective for treating “stress”, a condition which could be readily influenced by both the placebo effect and improvements in diet and exercise.

*Apologies for missing episode 4, work has been hectic the last couple of weeks.