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My Grandfather's Complimentary Medicine - The secret to a healthy old age?

Written by jacob matthews · Wednesday 22nd May 2013

Complimentary medicine (CAM) is controversial, especially when it is offered by the NHS! You only have to read the recent health section of the Telegraph to see Max Pemberton and James LeFanu exchanging strong opinions. Most of the ‘therapies’ available on the market have little to no evidence base to support their use and yet, I believe that it has an important role to play in modern medicine.

I believe that CAM is useful not because of any voodoo magic water or because the soul of a tiger lives on in the dust of one of its claws but because modern medicine hasn’t tested EVERYTHING yet and because EVERY DOCTOR should be allowed to use a sugar pill or magic water to ease the anguish of the worried well every now and again. The placebo effect is powerful and could be used to help a lot of patients as well as save the NHS a lot of money.

I visited my grandfather for a cup of coffee today. As old people tend to do we discussed his life, his life lessons and his health . My grandfather is 80-something years old and worked as a collier underground for about 25 years before rising up through the ranks of management. In his entire life he has been to hospital twice: Once to have his tonsils removed and once to have a TKR – total knee replacement. My granddad maintains that the secret of his good health is good food, plenty of exercise, keeping his mind active and 1 dried Ivy berry every month! He takes the dried ivy berries because a gypsie once told his father that doing so would prevent infection of open wounds; common injuries in those working under ground. It is my granddad’s firm belief that the ivy berries have kept him healthy over the past 60 years, despite significant drinking and a 40 year pack history! My grandfather is the only person I know who takes this quite bizarre and potentially dangerous CAM, but he has done so for over half a century now and has suffered no adverse effects (that we can tell anyway)!

This has led me to think about the origin of medicine and the evolution of modern medicine from ancient treatments: Long ago medicine meant ‘take this berry and see what happens’. Today, medicine means ‘take this drug (or several drugs) and see what happens, except we’ll write it down if it all goes wrong’. Just as evidence for modern therapies have been established, is there any known evidence for the ivy berry and what else is it used for?

My grandfather gave me a second piece of practical advice this afternoon, in relation to the treatment of open wounds:

  1. To stop bleeding cover the wound in a bundle of spiders web. You can collect webs by wrapping them up with a stick, then slide the bundle of webs off the stick onto the wound and hold it in place.
  2. If the wound is quite deep then cover the wound in ground white pepper.

I have no idea whether these two tips actually work but they reminded me of ‘QuickClot’ ( a powder that the British Army currently issues to all its frontline troops for the treatment of wounds. The powder is poured into the wound and it forms a synthetic clot reducing blood loss. This technology has been a life-saver in Afghanistan but is relatively expensive. Supposing that crushed white pepper has similar properties, wouldn’t that be cheaper? While I appreciate that the two are unlikely to have the same level of efficacy, I am merely suggesting that we do not necessarily dismiss old layman’s practices without a little investigation. I intend to go and do a few searches on pubmed and google but just thought I’d put this in the public domain and see if anyone has any corroborating stories.

If your grandparents have any rather strange but potentially useful health tips I’d be interested in hearing them. You never know they may just be the treatments of the future!