The earliest written records of nearly all civilizations mention the use of herbs for healing. Emperor Shen Nung (3494 B.C) tasted various plants to determine their medicinal properties. Poisoning himself 100 times, his trial and error method contributed to the discovery of medicinal plants throughout the world. The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of the world’s population presently uses herbal medicine for some aspect of primary health care. The United States National Cancer Institute has identified 3,000 plants from which anticancer drugs are made from. Modern medicine draws its origins from early herbal therapies. Until the past 100 years, all MDs prescribed herbs routinely.
The development of synthetic medicine signalled the decline of MDs using herbs directly. Chemists began to isolate active ingredients in plants and to learn how to produce the component independently of the herb. In 2001, researchers identified 122 compounds used in mainstream medicine which were derived from plant sources. At least 7,000 medical compounds in the modern pharmacopoeia that are derived from plants. For example, Salicin, the analgesic component of aspirin, is derived from the bark of the White Willow (Salix alba). Newly synthesised compounds would have a similar chemical structure as the natural ingredient but are more potent, more dangerous and more likely to lead to profound toxic effects. These effects were labelled as “side effects”, but they are really the normal action of the synthetic active ingredient in the body merely acting in ways other than intended. For example, gastrointestinal disturbances are very common with aspirin. This side effect is less likely to occur with the plant as the dose and the concentration are not as strong. With this new age of synthetic medicine came the development of new miracle drugs. It also saw an increase in disease from medication, side effects and adverse reactions. Many of us may be familiar with “take Drug A for your _______ and take Drug B to help with nausea that you will get from Drug A”. Does this method of treatment truly seem logical?
Botanical medicine or preparations derived from the plant are usually safer and slower acting than drug therapy, resulting in less toxic effects. When using the plant directly, you are utilizing the active ingredient and all the associated factors in the plant. This makes the action of the particular ingredient more effective in its natural state as it works in conjunction with the other components. In fact the benefit of an herb is usually due to the total interaction of all its constituents and not just the active ingredient. Consequently, there are few herb-related diseases.
The safety of medication is of course very important. Any medicine can be toxic when used improperly. It is a common misconception that botanical medications are completely safe and nontoxic; natural does not always mean safe! Drug interactions can occur not only between the drugs. They can also occur between drugs and herbs, herbs and herbs, herbs and nutrients, nutrients and nutrients, etc. Knowledge of botanical toxicology is essential before attempting to treat with herbs. In general, botanical medicine is safer and more therapeutic than the use of drugs when prescribed appropriately, at correct dosages and monitored properly.
The majority of negative reactions between botanical herbs and drugs are predominantly due to an interaction with a particular ingredient in the herb with the drug. In many cases, regulating authorities fail to realize that a significant amount of the herb must be consumed in order to cause a negative interaction with the drug.
At Nature Medicine, your ND is fully trained in botanical medicine. Western botanicals are prescribed on an individual basis, combined in such a manner as to keep your medications at a minimum. They are formulated to aid in stimulating or directing your body’s own healing forces, in order to isolate a disease causing factor and to promote health from within.
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- The World Health Organization: Traditional medicine Fact sheet N°134, 2008. www.who.int
- Interactive European Network for Industrial Crops and their Applications (2000-2005). http://ec.europa.eu/research/quality-of-life/ka5/en/00111.html
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- Tierra, M. The Way of Chinese Herbs. 1998. Pocket Books, New York, NY.