Dr Lesley Braun PhD Director, Blackmores Institute, Adjunct Associate Professor, National Institute of Complementary Medicine (University of Western Sydney)
When Dr Lesley Braun’s grandfather was in his mid-80s, the man had to undergo surgery often due to his diabetes and heart condition. Seeing his health struggles, Dr Lesley recommended him some gingko pills.
“The result was amazing,” she recalls with a smile. “Within 1 month, he could walk 3km without cramping, and his memory improved.”
However, she found that there was considerable scepticism about the benefits of complementary medicine in the medical community. This, and the benefits that she witnessed firsthand in her grandfather, spurred Dr Lesley to make it her personal crusade to champion the benefits of complementary medicine to healthcare professionals as well as members of the public. Today, she is one of Australia’s most respected authorities in science-based complementary medicine.
Dr Lesley was in Malaysia last June to participate in the first Asian Blackmores Institute Symposium, and we managed to sit down with her for a chat.
Complements for good health
What is complementary medicine? “The term has different meanings in different parts of the world,” says Dr Lesley. To members of the complementary medicine profession such as herself, however, the phrase usually encompasses the following nutrition science: food supplements, herbal medicines and even traditional systems such as yoga and meditation.
Complementary medicine has long been used as a means to support or boost one’s health. It can also support a patient’s recovery rate after undergoing treatments with modern medicine. Dr Lesley offers an example: zinc.
Zinc is a zinger
Certain high blood pressure or hypertension medications, such as ACE inhibitors and angiotensin-2 receptor antagonists or thiazide diuretics, may reduce the zinc level in the patient when taken long-term. To avoid zinc deficiency and subsequent health complications, the patient can turn to zinc-rich foods or zinc supplement pills.
But what about safety?
Dr Lesley says, “Complementary medicine has been used for many generations such as garlic being used by the ancient Egyptians for treating infections.”
These days, complementary medicine is intensively researched in scientific laboratories using the same methods as other forms of medical research. We are discovering the benefits of natural remedies, as well as their potential side effects and how well they work (or do not work!) when taken alongside certain modern medications.
The quality of the products has also improved. Dr Lesley points out that reputable producers often practise stringent quality control and make a conscious effort to source for high quality ingredients from all over the world.
Furthermore, there are rules set in place by the government to ensure that the complementary medicines and therapies do meet a certain standard of quality and safety.
Credible or quackery?
In the past, complementary medicine was dismissed by many as scientifically unproven and even unsafe. Dr Lesley believes that times are changing.
“Every time I give a lecture at a university, there would be a long line of students with questions afterwards,” she says. This is a good sign that members of the modern medical community are increasingly open-minded regarding and even accepting of complementary medicine.
As the Director of Blackmores Institute, she and her colleagues work closely with researchers from the modern medical community as well as those from the complementary medicine community. One of the more current researches is with a geneticist on the possible uses of various combinations of vitamins to manage migraine.
Clearly, complementary medicine has come a long way from the days of our grandparents, and with increasing interest from the scientific community in this area, things will certainly be exciting in the coming days!