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Jan de Vries : The man who loved people and loved helping them live life to full

Una Brankin reflects on the remarkable career of health guru Jan de Vries, who died this week

Published 09/07/2015

Celebrated herbalist and naturopath Jan de Vries
Celebrated herbalist and naturopath Jan de Vries

Jan de Vries had film stars, famous singers, industrialists, sportsmen and royals among his clients, but the dapper, cheery Dutchman never name-dropped.

Spiritual and unmaterialistic, he told this newspaper in 2005 that he would like to be remembered "as a pen held in God's hand to do his work as much as possible and help people. I hope that will be the case. I will do my best."

Some of his celebrity fans were more than happy to credit the herbalist, however, for their wellbeing - including the Ultimo bra tycoon, Michelle Mone. The tall Scot was 17st and size 22 before she was introduced in 2005 to de Vries, who had been working for five years on a weight-loss formula, to be combined with a healthy living plan.

"Within two weeks of him fine-tuning the formula for me, I started to feel more energetic, and I stopped thinking about food," said Mone in 2007. "Before, I'd stop at McDonald's on my way to work, eat junk food for lunch and drink gallons of Coke every day.

"I can't explain it, but it was as if the capsules I was taking had somehow flicked a switch in my brain.

"From week two of taking the tablets, I was losing 2lbs a week - that might not sound like a lot, but diet experts agree it's better to lose weight at less than 3lbs a week."

Also willing to sing the praises of the renowned Dutch herbalist and naturopath, who had a long-running clinic on Belfast's Lisburn Road, was Gloria Hunniford, who leaned on him for support during her daughter Caron Keating's terminal illness.

De Vries was a regular guest on Gloria's Radio 2 show in the 1980s and 1990s. He became the Portadown-born broadcaster's health adviser and, in 2002, the pair wrote a book, Feel Fabulous at Fifty.

Unsurprisingly, then, De Vries was the first health expert the Caron turned to, after finding a lump in her breast, back in 1997. They had just appeared together on ITV's This Morning when Caron told him she was worried the protrusion could be more than a milk lump (she had recently given birth to her youngest son, Gabriel) and asked him for his opinion.

"The lump in her breast was visible," recalled de Vries in an interview shortly after Caron's death. "I told her she needed to see a doctor immediately, which she did."

Over the next seven years, de Vries became an unwavering source of support and advice to Caron, who was initially given only 18 months to live after her breast cancer diagnosis. He designed a diet for her, with vitamin supplements, enzymes and herbal remedies to complement her medical treatment, seeking to strengthen her immune system and detoxify her body.

He also recommended daily doses of IP-6, a component of fibre found in wholegrains and legumes, and insitol, a natural substance that is part of the vitamin B group.

A firm believer in the link between stress and cancer, de Vries was convinced that the death of Caron's adored father, Don Keating, was a contributing factor in her illness. He taught her breathing exercises and visualisation techniques, which she used right up to her death in April 2004.

Gloria has credited De Vries, along with other alternative treatments the positive-minded Caron underwent, in helping her to live for seven years with the aggressive disease.

"Human beings have a tremendous capacity to heal themselves," he once said of Caron's fight. "But I believe that when your time is up, it's up. At the end of the day, the body always has the last word."

A qualified pharmacist, homoeopath, herbalist, osteopath and acupuncturist, de Vries grew up in Holland during World War II. He developed a strong ambition to help those most in need and opted to study pharmacy at university in the mid-1950s.

Following a chance meeting with the famous naturopath Alfred Vogel in 1960, de Vries became fascinated by plant medicine and went to work with Vogel at his clinic in Teufen, Switzerland. There, he learned the benefits of treating the body as a whole, rather than just the symptom of the illness. He later went on to Germany to study osteopathy and also travelled to China to learn about acupuncture, before establishing his first clinic with Vogel in Holland and the Biohoma herbal remedy company.

Although he loved to promote living closer to nature, he put a great deal of work into several projects which brought alternative medicine and orthodox medicine together.

In 1960, de Vries married a Scottish girl with whom he had four daughters. In 1971, he set up a residential clinic, Mokoia, in the small seaside town of Troon on the west coast of Scotland. The clinic flourished and was later relocated to the nearby town of Ayr.

Happiest in his organic vegetable garden, the royalties from his books went to research on plants in Third World countries.

''I love people and I love helping them," he once said. "Nature has given us a cure for every illness and most plants tell us what they should be used for. People do want more natural remedies and the knowledge that was once common is returning."

Gloria: It's like losing relative

Last night, Gloria Hunniford paid tribute to her friend Jan de Vries.

She spoke warmly of Mr de Vries as a friend and as a medial adviser to both her and her daughter Caron Keating, who died in 2004.

In 2002 Gloria and Jan wrote a bestseller together - Feel Fabulous at Fifty. "Jan became part of our family structure.

"He was just kind - seriously kind and compassionate. I don't mean to be trite about it, but it's like losing a family member," she said.

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