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Herbal Remedies 101: Everything you need to know
Posted on Mar 04, 2013 by Bethany
UMI takes a look at herbal remedies and how reliable they are compared to modern medicine.
Herbal medicine (also know more recently as biological medicine) is by far the oldest method of treating illnesses, injuries and ailments known to man. History and archeology show evidence of humans using plants, berries, roots, poultices, teas and other things found in nature in an attempt to heal themselves as far back as 3,000 BC and today many indigenous cultures around the world still hold to traditional medicines and methods past down over the centuries from generation to generation.
This long history and the success of herbal remedies, or in some cases lack thereof, has caused modern science to take an interest in some of its more notable accomplishments in healing or aiding recovery. Conversely, it has also raised a huge amount of interest among the non-medically trained public as a result of astounding claims of herbal cures for reversing aging, rapid weight loss, memory improvement and any other health improvements you could possibly want. Unfortunately, many of these “cures” are entirely unstudied and substantiated, meaning you need to take the “results may vary” clause very seriously.
Does this mean that all herbal remedies are bogus? Absolutely not, since the science at work in herbs is exactly the same as modern medicine. It is simply a matter of introducing vitamins, minerals and compounds into the human body that can interact with, counteract, block, or promote a particular metabolic response.
The differences between herbal remedies and traditional medicine lies in is how much real study has been invested into the particular herb(s) you are considering taking for a specific condition. Also important is to think about the volume of the herbs you are taking and how it may interact with other things you take in including, prescription medications, other herbal remedies, alcoholic beverages, and even your food.
For many, the decision to use herbal remedies is in an effort to adopt a more natural approach to health by avoiding “chemical medicines” which are essentially processed compounds that the over-the-counter or prescription medications that are available worldwide. And admittedly these have at times been abused, over-prescribed, or tainted causing negative consequences to the patient.
The key to using herbal remedies to maintain your good health is to approach them like you would any other medicine; with education and common sense. Ideally, herbal remedies and traditional medicine can both have a place in maintaining your good health.
Its All-Natural, It Can't Hurt Me... Right?
For the same reason that you read the active ingredient labels and expiration dates on prescription medications, you should be sure of what you are putting in your body. This is not meant to make you think that herbal remedies are a hoax or dangerous by nature, but that you should be aware of what you are taking in and it’s origins.
Herbal remedies are largely unstudied in North America, and as a result herbs can be bought at almost any grocery store or “naturalist's shops” in every town. Just be aware, no matter who you know claims to have had an amazing result from the newest fad plant extract, serum or pill, you should always be suspicious of anything that sounds too good to be true. After all, herbal medicine is a $25billion industry in the USA and an estimated 70% of Americans take herbs on a regular basis, yet people still get sick, remain overweight, and suffer from Alzheimer's disease or similar problems. There is no such thing as a miracle cure.
On the other hand, in the European Union herbal medicine is regulated nearly as closely as traditional medicine, and as a result herbs are not nearly as easy to purchase and most require a consultation with a naturopathic or homeopathic doctor, who has completed approved educational requirements and adheres to a code of ethics, all of which works to make sure you are not negatively affected by the treatments or remedies they prescribe.
Know What You Are Taking
The other thing you should be aware of is the source of your herbal remedies and what is really in them. Many herbs contain additional ingredients beyond what is specifically printed on the label, or the actual amount of the active ingredient may be minuscule and almost inconsequential.
Beyond this, in many developing countries your nearest herbal medicine shop is just as likely to be located in the stall shared by the local butcher as it is to be attached to a hospital which offers consultations with traditional medicine doctors, and as a result the opinion, skills, and experience of the person “prescribing” and concocting your “remedy” is likely to vary as much as the price of the souvenir t-shirts sold nearby. Bottom line: always get ALL medications, herbal or otherwise, from a reputable source, including if you order them online.
Herbal Remedies And Drug Interaction
It is important to be aware of what you are putting in your system, particularly with regard to mixing natural and chemical medications. Many patients don't tell their doctor what herbs they are taking when they see their doctor for a particular health problem and then when they start to take their prescription drugs they run the risk of a dangerous chemical reaction or their herbs negating or slowing the effect of their new medications.
Just as you would not hide any other prescription drugs you take regularly from your physician, it is critical to disclose all other medicines you take. Your doctor can't help you if he or she does not know your full health situation.
As an example, grapefruit seed extract contains an enzyme called CYP3A4, a powerful anti-microbial agent, which is one of the main reasons people use it. However, it also makes metabolizing many prescription medications more difficult and as a result, taking this enzyme at the same time as other drugs can result in very high concentrations of the prescription drug remaining in your blood stream for a longer period of time.
Another popular natural remedy is garlic, raw or chelated, since it boosts immunity and speeds up metabolism, however it is also an anti-coagulant and can put you at risk of excessive bleeding if you are injured, and the condition is compounded if it used at the same time as any other chemical drug with similar side-effects.
This article is in no way taking away from the good that herbal medicine has to offer, in fact if it were not for the efforts and trial-and-error of the pioneers in healing of centuries past, we would likely all be much less healthy today. The key is simply to be a smart consumer. Read labels, be open and honest with your doctor, have reasonable expectations and do everything in moderation.
Herbal remedies are a great way to manage health and mood through balancing chemical levels in your body, and the alternative medicine industry does a great job of providing options to traditional health care treatments, just be sure to remember that the reason you chose them is to be healthy, not put yourself at risk.