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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 00:00 GMT 01:00 UK
Britons keen on complementary medicine
Demand for therapies like acupuncture is rising
Britons are spending more money on complementary medicines than ever before.

Researchers say British consumers now spend 130m on herbal remedies, aromatherapy oils and other alternative treatments each year.

They predict that figure will rise sharply over the next few years and the market will be worth almost 200m by 2008.

The findings come as the European Union prepares to introduce tough new rules on complementary medicines.

Under the proposals, manufacturers will have to show herbal medicines are not a threat to public health.

Opponents say the policy, which has yet to be approved by EU health ministers, will cause some remedies to disappear from the shelves.

Safety fears

But research by consumer analysts Mintel has found many people are concerned about the safety of complementary medicines.

Their survey of 25,000 people found one in five worry about possible side-effects.

One in four said they would like pharmacists to provide more information on complementary medicines.

Nevertheless, the survey shows an increasing number of people choose complementary therapies when they get ill.

It found one in two Britons has visited an alternative health practitioner, such as an osteopath, aromatherapist or acupuncturist.

The figure is even higher for men - two out of three have turned to alternative health practitioners for help.

It also found one in four people believe alternative remedies can help to relieve common ailments like back pain, stress and coughs and colds.

The survey suggests people are often prepared to take complementary medicines in tandem with pharmaceutical drugs.

Doctors have warned in the past that patients who do this could be putting themselves at risk.

Some complementary therapies are known to interact with conventional medication.

The survey found one in three people believe taking both complementary and conventional medication can speed up recovery from some conditions.

Researchers also found one in three Britons would like more doctors to advise patients to take complementary medicines.

A similar proportion said they would like to see these remedies available for free on the NHS.

One in three said they would consider taking complementary treatments if they were recommended to do so by their doctor or pharmacist.

Overall, one in five said they prefer to take natural products to treat ailments.

The analysts said the proposed EU changes could have a major impact on the manufacturers.

Amanda Lintott, consumer analyst for Mintel, said: "It will bring them into competition and perhaps conflict with highly researched conventional medicines which have far greater financial backing."

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