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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 May, 2005, 23:15 GMT 00:15 UK
Warning over gut drugs reliance
Woman in pain
Many people visit doctors suffering heartburn
People are overusing antacids and other gut drugs to combat digestive problems, herbalists are warning.

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists said high levels of use of such drugs was masking patients' underlying health problems.

A survey of herbalists found 92% believed over the counter antacids and prescription acid-suppressive drugs were used inappropriately.

GPs agreed, saying gut problems could often be solved by lifestyle changes.

Diet change

The warning comes just a month after the Health Select Committee criticised the UK's culture of dependency on drugs.

The cross-party group of MPs said overuse of drugs - 650 million prescriptions are given each year, costing the NHS 7bn - was harming health.

In many cases a change in lifestyle - eating less fatty foods, cutting down on alcohol - can have a major impact
Dr Jim Kennedy, of the Royal College of GPs

Their report said adverse drug reactions were responsible for 5% of all hospital admissions.

One in 10 people use antacids for indigestion and one in 20 visit GPs suffering heartburn each year.

Institute president Ned Reiter said: "Too many people are inappropriately using these treatments on a long-term basis.

"In some cases, we're hearing about individuals who have been prescribed really powerful drugs when a simple change of diet would have done the job.


"This is the trouble with our symptom-obsessed approach to medicine in this country.

"By treating the symptom, rather than underlying cause, we're missing a trick.

"When will the health profession wake up to the holistic approach?"

The institute's survey of 100 herbalists found 55% thought antacids and acid-suppressive drugs, such as proton pump inhibitors for which there is a 400m market in the UK, were often used inappropriately. Some 37% said they were sometimes used inappropriately.

Recent Dutch research found that use of acid-suppressive drugs increased the risk of pneumonia.

Dr Jim Kennedy, prescribing spokesman for the Royal College of GPs, said the institute was right to raise concerns about overuse of antacids.

"In many cases a change in lifestyle - eating less fatty foods, cutting down on alcohol - can have a major impact.

"It is not always necessary to take medication. But I think this is something GPs do try to address. We do encourage patients to take a look at their lifestyle if they are suffering from [digestive] problems."

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