A friend passed along this "A history
the other day. Seen on the Internet,
So I'm certain that it's academically sound and thoroughly reviewed for
accuracy. It went something like this:
2500 BC - for this illness,
eat this root
1000 AD - that root is
heathen, say this prayer
1850 AD - that prayer is
old-fashioned, buy this patent medicine
1950 AD - that medicine is
snake oil, take this antibiotic
1997 AD - that antibiotic is
ineffective, eat this root
The last few years
of this decade have seen an enormous upsurge of interest in herbal
medicines, natural remedies, or alternative therapies. Whether from
western folk tradition, Native American culture, Chinese medicine, or a
myriad of other geographic locations, times or cultures, it is clear that
people today are searching for ways to heal themselves or be healed. The
inability of modern western medicine to treat effectively chronic
conditions such as fibromyalgia (FM) have lead most people with chronic
conditions to seek other means of help and healing. In fact, well over
two-thirds of people with chronic rheumatic conditions use so-called
alternative therapies". Because
the use of natural substances is never far from the front pages these
days, I thought I would ponder a bit on how they can help life to go on.
It's a confusing
world out there. What's a medicine? What's a supplement? What's
natural? What's an herb?
- any substance taken into the body in order to modify one or more of its
functions. In current terms, this may mean that the substance has
therapeutic value; that is, it modifies an abnormality, like lowering high
blood pressure. Or the substance may have preventive value in that it
boosts the body's
ability to ward off potential disease, like taking antioxidants.
- these are substances that are added to what a
person already ingests or manufactures. For example, vitamins and
minerals taken by pill form supplement what we get in the foods we eat.
- usually defined as not artificial, coming from nature. When referring
to medicines or supplements it usually means coming from a source in
nature and not manufactured through chemical means. The term is also used
to mean that nothing has been added.
- defined in botany as a plant with a soft stem and little wood, esp. an
aromatic plant used in medicine or seasoning. But the word also may mean
any plant or plant part used for medicinal purposes, a more broad
definition. If you are going to
try herbal medicines, here are some thoughts on what you might want to
know before you swallow them:
In the United States
herbal medicines are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
as long as they are marketed as food, food additives or dietary supplements
and do not make medical claims on the bottle label. In fact an herbal
product cannot be removed from the market until the government has proved
that it is harmful. This is unlike a drug company which has to prove that
its product is safe and produces desired results before it can be marketed.
In contrast, Germany has a commission set up specifically to examine the
claims of herbal products and ensure their safety. While the commission
does not require that the herbal remedy be proven effective, it does publish
summaries of research studies that give prescribers' and consumers
information about which parts of a plant are safe to use, active chemicals ,
potential side effects, dosage and possible interactions with other drugs.
Now one might think that such regulation would put a damper on the herbal
industry. Not in Germany. St. John's
Wort, for example, is prescribed 25 times more often for depression than
Prozac. Gingko biloba is widely prescribed for circulatory disorders.
What the above data from Germany
is telling us is that some herbs are powerful remedies for common physical
disorders. Here in the USA, the government and mainline medicine seem to
treat them as if they are largely harmless and beneficial only for gullible
people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some plants and herbs are
poisonous, known to cause cancer and liver damage, or dangerous to persons
with heart conditions. And some are safe and effective.
If you want
to try herbal medicines, there are several sources of information that can
help you make an informed decision. The clerk in the health food store is
not one of them nor is most of the sales material produced by the
manufacturers. On the other hand, neither is your health-care provider,
most likely. He or she probably does not know much, if anything about
herbs, and has been educated only in the use of mainline pharmaceuticals.
The following books might be of help:
Carol Newall and others,
Herbal Medicine: A Guide for Health Care Professionals
Varro Tyler, Herbs of
Choice and The Honest Herbal
Or check out the website for
the Herb Research Foundation at www.herbs.org.
The foundation can also be
contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
FAX (303) 449-2265,
Phone (303) 449-7849
Or snail mail: Herb Research Foundation,
1007 Pearl St.,
Boulder, CO 80302.