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Perhaps natural healthcare can take a leading role in deciding what the ‘healthscape’ will look like, says Steve Mann


The Natural Healthcare industry has seen steady growth in recent years, but can this growth be sustained?

The regulatory environment has become tougher, controls on products tighter, and communicating product benefits is challenging within the framework of the European Health Claims Directive. So, does the natural healthcare industry need to evolve to survive?

There’s a big difference between treating illness and maintaining good health. Prevention is better than cure as they say, and in the last few years there’s been a shift towards trying to keep people healthy rather than simply treating them once they’ve become ill. Why is this? Well, I’m not sure there’s much choice.

The NHS is under severe pressure, the population is ageing, and we continue to make unhealthy lifestyle choices. The health burden is increasing, and if things continue as they are the system simply won’t be able to cope with the demands being put upon it.

We therefore need to adopt more dynamic strategies in how we manage physical and mental health, and an integrated approach to healthcare has many potential benefits, both societally and economically, to individual patients and the overall healthcare system.

I’ve attended several conferences recently where this topic has either been in focus or has come up in the subsequent panel sessions. I recall an event at the Royal Society of Medicine where a cardiac surgeon advocated the importance of good nutrition for his patients.

This was followed by other HCPs speaking about the importance of diet, exercise, and social interaction on the health and wellbeing of their patients, all areas which were outside of their own therapeutic specialty.

It felt like something of a watershed moment – senior healthcare professionals extolling the virtues of multiple therapeutic approaches and how they can be combined to deliver the best outcome for the patient. What was disappointing, however, was a consensus that there is so little integration of such disciplines within the current healthcare system.

Integrated healthcare is nothing new of course but in the past it’s often been associated with alternative therapies and practices outside of conventional healthcare. That’s not what it’s about. It considers the overall physical and mental health of the individual rather than focusing on one or two ailments, then considers multiple therapeutic approaches to return them to good health.

It can combine dietary and nutritional regimes, exercise, social prescribing, physiotherapy, as well as a multitude of other therapies, conventional or otherwise. It results in a programme tailored to the needs of the individual, increasing the likelihood of a positive treatment outcome.

Whilst revolution can happen overnight, evolution can’t, either in our healthcare system or in societal attitudes towards health. In an ideal world, we’d all eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly but in the real world that’s not what’s happening. We need to help get society back on track, with a regulatory framework supporting products that have a positive effect on health, education and training to support healthcare professionals and an integrated healthcare system that not only treats us when we are ill, but also focuses on keeping us in good health.

In a world where we aim to maintain good physical and mental health, the opportunities for the natural healthcare industry to evolve and grow are almost infinite. If we simply consider the nutritional field, innovation and product development is happening apace.

We’ve always known that good nutrition is important, yet we’re only just starting to scratch the surface of how vital it is in our long-term health. The gut-brain axis is a fascinating area of research, we seem to be learning something new about the human biome every week, and micronutrients are now being shown to have a significant role in everything from the development of chronic disease to maintaining mental health.

If the supporting science can be developed, and the communication of their potential health benefits (whilst remaining regulated) is not overly restricted, then in this field alone the future for the natural healthcare industry looks bright.

So, our healthcare system needs to evolve. Society, education, and how it approaches health and wellbeing needs to evolve. Training for healthcare professionals needs to evolve, and the regulatory framework needs to evolve.

The natural healthcare industry can, of course, evolve along with them. Perhaps it can even take a leading role in shaping what the future ‘healthscape’ looks like. Or perhaps, the healthcare system, society, regulators and industry can all align, integrate and evolve together, with a focus on keeping us all in good health.

Steve Mann is director of external regulatory affairs at Nelsons.

Herbal at a glance
Herbal /traditional paediatric dietary supplements saw a 15% increase in sales in 2017. Parents are increasingly concerned about the nutritional intake of their children and trust the properties of herbal/traditional paediatric dietary supplements.

Source: Euromonitor