Practitioners 'must be open-minded': A campus is researching alternative healing. Celia Hall reports

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PRACTITIONERS of complementary medicine must be prepared for some of their treatments not to withstand scientific scrutiny, a director of the University of Exeter's centre of complementary health studies said yesterday.

Simon Mills, a medical herbalist, said that open-mindedness on the part of orthodox and complementary practitioners was essential. In the five years the centre had been established, it had started to tackle the problems of conducting clinical research, using patients, into complementary medicine. 'I see no reason why we should not be able to publish good-quality research,' he said.

The centre offers a two-year Bachelor of Philosophy course to doctors, nurses and complementary practitioners, and higher degrees can be taken. It concentrates on acupuncture, chiropractic and herbal medicine, homoeopathy and osteopathy.

Acupuncture is a branch of ancient Chinese medicine in which needles are used to produce anaesthesia or as a treatment. Western scientists have striven to explain the phenomenon; one theory is that the placing or vibrating of the needles causes a release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. Few now doubt the effectiveness of acupuncture, although it is rarely used for surgery in Britain.

Chiropractic is a form of manipulation largely used to treat pain and stiffness in joints and muscles. But it is based on a broader theory which suggests that abnormal nerve functions can affect the functions of organs.

Herbal medicine, which for centuries was the only treatment available, uses plants to treat specific ailments, and practitioners are extremely knowledgeable.

Homoeopathy is a complementary approach that seems to cause orthodox doctors the most trouble, although it is still available on the NHS. Patients are given minute doses of medicines which might be expected to make the symptoms worse.

Osteopathy, probably the most accepted of the complementary medicines, emphasises the importance of the bone and muscle systems for a healthy body. The treatment usually involves rhythmic stretching and pressure to restore pain-free movement.