24 Jan 2006

The Open University goes alternative

Kathy Sykes

Kathy Sykes

The new Open University / BBC co-produced series of Alternative Medicine begins on Tuesday 24th January 2006 at 9pm on BBC TWO.

This three part series tells the story of a remarkable journey taken by scientist Kathy Sykes to uncover the truth behind the world’s most ancient medicines. She sets off to discover whether they really do work and, if so, how. It’s a journey that will challenge all our views of who we really are and how best to treat ourselves.

The Open University co-produced the series as it has a course, K221 Perspectives on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, related to the subject. This one year course is designed for anyone who holds an interest in this area and is looking for an accessible, yet rigorous introduction to complimentary and alternative approaches to medicine and health.

Dr Tom Heller of the OU Faculty of Health and Social Care who assisted in the development of the K221 course said: “I have held a keen interest in alternative medicine for some 20 years. As a working GP I appreciate the values of complementary medicine alongside more orthodox methods. The medical practice I currently work at also recognises the benefits and offers complementary therapy to its patients. I firmly believe that alternative methods can assist people with their health and well-being and hope that the K221 course can help people gain more understanding about complementary and alternative forms of medicine.”

The Open University, in conjunction with Dr Heller, has produced a free booklet entitled Alternative Medicine – The Evidence which explores the themes of the series. It summarises the most frequently asked questions on complementary therapy and provides further information on The Open University K221 course.

The content of the programmes raises a number of questions and issues which viewers may like to find out more about. Additional information can be found on the BBC / Open University website,'s Alternative Medicine web site offers experts' critique of the key issues raised in the series. It also includes background on each of the programmes, and an exploration of the challenges scientists face when researching and evaluating alternative therapies.

Programme One – Acupuncture

In this programme Kathy investigates the 2,000 year-old practice of acupuncture. She discovers powerful evidence that ancient Chinese doctors had found a way to manipulate Chi – the life energy.

Kathy begins her journey in China where she hears and sees acupuncture in practice. The most astonishing is a scene in a Chinese hospital in which doctors perform open heart surgery on a young woman – using acupuncture instead of a general anaesthetic. In China, she discovers, acupuncture is used alongside western medicine and, at times, as a replacement.

Kathy recruits a team of top scientists and alternative practitioners to discover if acupuncture is having an effect. Over several months they devise an experiment which they hope will find the answer and finally uncover the secrets of acupuncture. Kathy and her team scan the brains of volunteers undergoing acupuncture. The conclusions challenge current understandings of the workings of the brain and throws new light on this ancient practice.

Programme Two – Healing

In this programme Kathy investigates the effectiveness of spiritual healing. She discovers that although there is no evidence that healers have any special powers some of their patients have remarkable recoveries. Kathy discovers a powerful self-healing mechanism which may explain some of the apparent ‘cures’ people have experienced after healing.

Kathy explores this extraordinary human capacity and finds the key to triggering it.

Kathy travels the UK and the United States meeting healers who describe their methods and powers. She meets doctors who are so impressed they have even invited healers into their surgeries and hospitals. Kathy finally tracks down a team in America who are putting healers through a series of tests to find out whether they do have any special powers.

So, could the power of the mind explain the benefits people experience from healers? The conclusion throws new light on all healing processes, and has a surprising and inspirational message for every practitioner and patient.

Programme Three – Herbalism

In this programme Kathy investigates the ancient practice of herbalism and discovers that some herbs work – she also finds that several have no proven efficacy at all but that some of them may provide answers to medical conditions that continue to baffle modern science.

Kathy travels through South Africa, Germany and Britain. Everywhere there are distinct herbal traditions, each with their unique practices and distinctive plants. But one claim underlies them all – herbs have remarkable properties that make them powerful medicines.

In Britain she meets people who are pinning their hopes on herbs – some with remarkable results. And in Germany she meets the scientists who are taking them apart and submitting them to rigorous clinical trials.


For a free brochure, Alternative Medicine – The Evidence, call 08700 100 878 or log on to

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