Introduction to Herbal Medicine Remedies
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Products of Nature
To the uninformed, herbs are generally thought of as ineffective medicines used prior to the advent of more effective synthetic drugs. The term herb refers to a plant used for medicinal purposes. Are herbs effective medicinal agents or is their use merely a reflection of folklore, outdated theories, and myth? To some, herbs and crude plant extracts are effective medicines to be respected, utilized and appreciated. Our challenge, if we are to become less dependent on the pharmaceutical community, is to become better informed about the world of herbal remedies!
The return to herbal medicine
Throughout the world, but especially in Europe and Asia, the use and appreciation of herbal medicine is on the rise. In Germany, estimates show that over $4 billion dollars are spent on herbal products each year. In Japan, the figure is thought to be even higher. Herbal products are a major business in the United States as well, with an estimated annual sales figure of $1.3 billion dollars for 1992 and climbing.
The rebirth of herbal medicine, especially in developed countries, is largely based on the renewed interest of scientific researchers. During the last 10 to 20 years their efforts have yielded an explosion of scientific information concerning plants, crude plant extracts, and various substances from plants as medicinal agents.
The role of herbs in medicine: Time for a Change
It is up to us to be our own advocates when we are faced with pharmaceutical vs herbal choices in our own Health care. Whey aren't our doctors prescribing more natural alternatives? Because they are funded by the pharmaceutical companies, and the pharmaceutical companies don't make any money on herbs and natural plants!
(Are you aware that a large part of a cancer doctor's income comes from kick-backs from the chemo manfacuters. Guess what? No one is going to pay him extra to prescribe a program of diet and natural therapies!)
Because a plant cannot be patented, very little research has been done in this century on whole plants or crude plant extracts as medicinal agents. Instead, pharmaceutical firms screen plants for biological activity and then isolate the so-called active constituents (compounds). (Indeed, pharmacognosy, the study of natural drugs and their constituents, plays a major role in current drug development.) If the compound is powerful enough, the drug company will begin the formidable process to procure Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. I say formidable, because in the United States FDA approval of a plant-based drug typically takes 10 to 18 years at a total cost of roughly $230 million dollars.
In contrast, European policies have made it economically feasible for companies to research and develop herbs as medicines. In Germany, herbal products can be marketed as medicines if they have been proved to be safe and effective.7 Actually, the legal requirements for herbal medicines are identical to those for all other drugs. Whether the herbal product is available by prescription or over the counter (OTC) is based on its application and safety of use. Herbal products sold in pharmacies are reimbursed by insurance if they are prescribed by a physician.
The proof required by a manufacturer in Germany to illustrate safety and effectiveness for an herbal product is far less than the proof required by the FDA for drugs in the United States. In Germany, a special commission (Commission E) developed a series of 200 monographs on herbal products, similar to the OTC monographs in the United States.7 An herbal product is viewed as safe and effective if a manufacturer meets the quality requirements of the relevant monograph or produces additional evidence of safety and effectiveness, which can include data from the existing literature, anecdotal information from practicing physicians, as well as limited clinical studies.
Herbal medicine will certainly play a major role in future medicine. As modern medicine gains more knowledge and understanding about health and disease it is adopting therapies that are more natural and less toxic. Lifestyle modification, stress reduction, exercise, meditation, dietary changes, and many other traditional naturopathic therapies are becoming much more popular in standard medical circles. This illustrates the paradigm shift that is occurring in medicine. What were once scoffed at are now becoming generally accepted as effective alternatives. In fact, in most instances these natural alternatives offer significant advantages over standard medical practices.