While most people think of drugs and medications as convenient little pills or potions that come ready-made in bottles or sleeves, humans first medicated themselves with herbs and plants that they foraged. Today’s herbal medicine combines the best of the old and new worlds.
Whether herbal medicine is your first choice or your last resort, you may have questions and concerns about which herbs are helpful and which simply rely on the placebo effect.
Although double-blinded studies are difficult to conduct with herbs, owing to varied doses and strengths, science has stepped in to create clarity about how to use these helpful compounds.
At Natural Health Specialists, our holistic medicine specialist, Christopher J. Fischer, ND, helps you find the right herbs to support your specific needs and chemistry.
Here, he discusses some of the myths — and the facts — around herbal medicine and why you may consider adding it to your health armamentarium.
Fact: Doctors and healers have used plant and herb medicines since the dawn of humankind. Way back in 3000 BC — 5,000 years ago —physicians in China and Egypt documented the use of herbs to cure and heal on their written documents.
Many other cultures developed their own traditional medicines, which were passed down through generations. Across these varied systems and geographies, many of the same plants, herbs, and compounds were found to be beneficial.
By the early 19th century, Western researchers extracted and modified the active ingredients from these healing plants and herbs. They also synthesized these compounds in the lab. Even today, almost a quarter of medications and drugs are derived from plants and herbs.
Fact: Around the world, 80% of women and men rely on herbal medicines as part of their primary care. The majority (70%) of physicians in Germany, for instance, pick and choose among up to 700 effective plant-based medicines to keep their patients healthy.
Even in the United States, which relies heavily on prescription-based synthesized drugs, more and more people now seek traditional, herbal medicines.
About 70% of women and men in the US take herbal medicines. They tend to have higher income and be better educated than average, perhaps because (as of yet) herbal medicine isn’t covered by insurance.
Fact: “Natural” doesn’t always mean “safe.” Many plants and herbs are poisonous. Some safe herbs, taken at the wrong doses, could be toxic. Combining plants and herbs with each other or with prescription medications or other supplements could also be risky.
Your own biology, too, must be considered when taking herbal medicine. Your doctor wouldn’t prescribe a medication without testing your general health, blood, and urine, to determine what’s going on inside your body. We must respect those same parameters in herbal medicine, too.
Without knowledge of your current state of health, your allergies, and the interactions of herbs with your medications or lifestyle choices, you could do more harm than good by using herbal medicines.
That’s why you should undergo an evaluation by a holistic medicine specialist who can then prescribe the right herbs in the right amounts and combinations for you.
Some herbs, such as kava kava, for instance, may cause liver toxicity. If you’re on kava kava, we may need to monitor your blood to check your levels.
Other herbs, such as valerian, may induce drowsiness in some people, but overstimulate others. Anyone with a bleeding disorder must be extra careful with herbal medicine, because some plants act as blood thinners.
Fact: Herbal medicines can be highly effective. When you receive the right compounds for your symptoms and your biology, herbal medicine can be just as effective — or even more effective — than conventional, Western drugs.
Herbal medicine can treat a wide variety of conditions, including:
Of course, to be effective, the herbal preparations you use must contain the plant compounds that treat the condition that bothers you.
Unfortunately, many drugstore brands of supplements contain little to no active ingredients. That’s another reason why you should work with a professional herbalist who has access to full-strength botanical extracts.
If you’re ready to try herbal medicine, contact us for an evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment today by calling 631-742-6697 or sending us a message online.
We’re based in East Northport, New York, but Dr. Fischer sees patients virtually. Subscribe to our new client spring special for monthly telehealth sessions.