In a recent article published by Mother Earth News, the writer Michael Castleman makes a broad generalization that herbal preparations can be more effective and safe than prescribed pharmaceutical medications.
“…Unfortunately, many medical authorities still disparage medicinal herbs. Critics make four accusations: Herbs are ineffective, unsafe, unregulated and, when they work, they’re not as strong as drugs.
Ineffective? Hardly. As I document in my book, The New Healing Herbs, thousands of studies confirm the effectiveness of medicinal herbs for hundreds of conditions.
Unsafe? Like drugs, medicinal herbs can cause harm. Anything that’s pharmacologically active can. To ensure safety, purchase a guide that emphasizes safety, such as my book or the American Botanical Council’s ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs, or check out the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
Anyone who calls herbs hazardous is totally misinformed. Every year the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) compiles statistics on accidental deaths from drugs, herbs, vitamins and other supplements. The AAPCC’s most recent report (2008) records 1,756 accidental poisoning deaths. How many were attributable to medicinal herbs? Zero. In every accidental death caused by a pharmacological agent, the culprit was a pharmaceutical. And it’s been that way for many years. Herbs are safer than drugs.
University of Toronto researchers combed 30 years of medical literature (1966 to 1996) for reports of drug side effects in hospital patients. Extrapolating from the 39 most rigorous studies, they estimated that drug side effects kill an astonishing 106,000 U.S. hospital patients per year and cause 2.2 million serious, nonfatal problems. This makes drug side effects the nation’s fourth leading cause of death. The true number of drug-caused injuries is undoubtedly higher; this study focused solely on hospital patients, not the public. Note: These deaths didn’t result from medical errors; they occurred when drugs were administered as approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”
My inner data retriever cautions readers to research any herbal preparations they are considering taking for health conditions. Personally, I am going to hunt down more statistics on herbal-related deaths. To claim “zero” deaths for poisoning from a single research resource may be possible, but that is only a small part of the total herbal usage picture. How many herbal preparation-related deaths are there due to inappropriate use of herbal preparations that lead to other serious health complications or even death? The difference between toxicity that can cause serious medical side effects and even cause death or provide beneficial health effects can be a matter of dosage, regardless whether the source is a plant/herbal-based preparation or commercially prepared pharmaceutical medication.
Mr. Castleman raises excellent questions regarding the safety of pharmaceuticals with limited trials and research (a topic worth researching on it’s own and reporting on with future blog posts), but that does not mean that one should blindly agree that herbs are safe even without the trials and research. Providing a list of herbs to explore is a good first step in education, but there is no substitute for using herbal preparations without further research, especially for a serious medical condition such as diabetes, cancer or arteriosclerosis. Simple lists such as this are no substitute for a person getting qualified recommendations from a knowledgeable medical practictioner or trained herbalist who can help determine the appropriate herbal preparations and amounts that will work with the person’s body and take into account all health conditions. The writer’s suggestion that it is perfectly safe to resort to backyard remedies without this caveat is misleading and potentially dangerous. It is critical to realize that ‘herbal’ and ‘natural’ do not mean a substance is safe, let alone effective. Herbs and herbal preparations have their appropriate place in creating health and well-being, as do pharmaceuticals that provide more “heroic” measures. The bottom line: Be safe and do your homework, and not stupid when taking care of personal health.
“Not as strong? Dose for dose, yes, herbs aren’t as strong as drugs. Willow bark contains a natural form of aspirin, but the standard dose (1 to 2 cups of tea or 1 to 2 teaspoons of tincture) doesn’t relieve pain as well as a standard dose of aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or naproxen (Aleve). As a result, critics dismiss herbs as medicinal wimps.
Rather than herbs being too weak, many drugs are too strong, causing side effects ranging from annoying to insufferable. Do no harm is the first axiom of medicine. This means that treatment should begin at the lowest possible effective dose. Why use a bulldozer if a broom suffices? Herbs should be prescribed first. Only those who truly need stronger medicine should use drugs, which cost more and have a greater risk of side effects. Unfortunately, American medicine does the opposite. Doctors prescribe drugs first, and only when the drugs are intolerable do some doctors suggest herbs. We don’t need medicine that’s stronger. We need medicine that’s smarter. For many common ills, herbs are cheaper and smarter.”
Link to the entire article: http://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-health/herbal-remedies-z10m0vau.aspx