Pearl of the Month

My favorite natural treatments


I practice in Seattle, where many of my patients are interested in natural treatment options. I am always puzzled that so many people assume that natural treatment options would be safer than prescription medications. Tsunamis, wildfires, flooding, and earthquakes are all natural and are deadly. There are certainly many natural poisons. There are a number of natural treatments that are very helpful, and recommending them are an important part of my practice. I want to share a few with you.

A useful vein pursuit?

Dr. Douglas S. Paauw, University of Washington, Seattle

Dr. Douglas S. Paauw

Case: A 60-year-old woman presents to clinic with increasing pain in her left leg. She had a deep vein thrombosis in her left leg 2 years ago, which involved a large portion of her superficial femoral vein. She has noticed edema over the past few weeks, and pain has been more severe over the past 3 months. On exam, varicosities on left lower extremity with grade 2+ edema. Duplex of the lower extremity does not show deep vein thrombosis, but does show a great deal of venous valvular incompetence. She has tried compression stockings for the past 2 weeks. What is the best treatment option?

A) Turmeric

B) Amitriptyline

C) Vitamin B12

D) Horse chestnut

The treatment option with positive data for this problem is horse chestnut. What is horse chestnut? Horse chestnut is a kind of tree, and the seed extract contains aescin which is believed to be the active ingredient. Diehm et al. studied horse chestnut seed extract (HCSE), compared with compression stockings and placebo for edema from chronic venous insufficiency in a study of 240 patients.1 Lower-leg volume decreased by 43 mL with HCSE, 46 mL with compression stockings, and increased by 9 mL with placebo (P less than .005 for HCSE and P less than .002 for compression). In a Cochrane review, HCSE was considered efficacious and safe for the short-term therapy for chronic venous insufficiency.2 Studies have shown both an improvement in pain as well as swelling in patients with chronic venous insufficiency.

The question of UTIs

Probably the most popular natural treatment for prevention and treatment of urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women is cranberry juice (or cranberry extract). Unfortunately, there is little evidence that this treatment is helpful. In a Cochrane analysis, the conclusion was, based on current evidence, cranberry juice cannot currently be recommended for the prevention of UTIs.3 A natural product that appears to be more promising is the sugar D-mannose. Kranjčec et al. studied 308 women with acute UTI who had a history of recurrent UTI.4 All the women were treated for their symptomatic infection with ciprofloxacin (500 mg twice daily for 1 week). The women were allocated equally to three groups for 6 months: D-mannose 2 g daily, nitrofurantoin 50 mg daily, or no prophylaxis. About 60% of the women who received no prophylaxis had a UTI during the study period, compared with 20% in the nitrofurantoin group and 15% in the D-mannose group. The relative risk for D-mannose, compared with no prophylaxis, was 0.24 and for nitrofurantoin was 0.34 (P less than .0001), compared with no prophylaxis.

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