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Reflexology steps up as homeopathy on the NHS is deemed ‘madness’ – but should we simply follow Cuba’s example?

Could reflexology be the next alternative medicine to relieve our aches and pains? The Daily Mail reports that a study in the Journal of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice suggests reflexology could one day help to treat conditions such as osteoarthritis and back pain. The study showed volunteers given reflexology before submerging a hand in ice water were able to hold their hand under the water for longer than when they were first given a sham treatment.

Lead author Dr Carol Samuel commented: ‘As we predicted, reflexology decreased pain sensations. It is likely that reflexology works in a similar way to acupuncture, by causing the brain to release chemicals that lessen pain signals.’

Over at the Telegraph, Professor Sir John Beddington, who retired as the Government’s chief scientific adviser on 1 April, has described the NHS paying for homeopathy as ‘mad’.

According to the paper he expressed his frustration that ministers continued to waste taxpayers’ money on treatments with no scientific basis, and claimed that the provision of homeopathy on the NHS was the only issue in five years as chief scientific adviser on which his views were ‘fundamentally ignored’.

The Department of Health dodged the bullet, saying it is up to local NHS organisations to decide what treatments to fund, while the Faculty of Homeopathy insisted randomised trials have produced ‘more positive results than negative’.

Less contentious – perhaps – is the suggestion that learning from Cuba’s experience could do a nation’s health a whole lot of good. According the Independent today, a ‘unique natural experiment’ showed how the country’s population shed an average of 5kg per head over five years – halving deaths from diabetes and cutting deaths from heart disease by a third.    

The article is based on a BMJ study, in which an international team of researchers describe how food and fuel shortages in Cuba between 1990 and 1995 led to millions eating much less and switching from using motorised vehicles and machinery to walking and working manually. The average weight loss over this period was 5kg – and deaths from diabetes and heart disease and stroke fell significantly from 1996.

Unfortunately since then, as Cuba’s economy has recovered, waistlines have expanded again. But the researchers say the findings provide ‘a notable illustration of the potential health benefits of reversing the global obesity epidemic’.