Most people consider herbs a form of alternative medicine that is not as effective as our modern, pharmaceutical-based medical treatments. But why is this such a commonly held belief? After all, modern Western medicine has existed for a mere handful of decades while traditional herbal medicines have been successfully used by humans to treat their ailments for millennia. Here are five reasons to reconsider the effectiveness of herbs as medicine.
Many Modern Medicines are Based on Herbs
The active ingredients in many herbs are the basis for some of our oldest and most effective pharmaceutical medicines. A well-known example of this is willow bark, which contains salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is the active ingredient in aspirin. But there are thousands of other, less widely-known examples. A commonly used heart medicine, Cardioquin, is derived from quinine bark, which was also historically used to formulate the antimalarial drug of the same name. In fact, most drugs synthesized in a laboratory today are based on herbal counterparts that have been used for thousands of years to successfully treat specific ailments.
Many Herbs are Recommended by Doctors
Herbs are prescribed by doctors to treat illnesses more often than you think. Senna is an herbal laxative that is often prescribed by doctors to treat severe constipation. An essential oil derived from cannabis is now being used by physicians to successfully treat severe seizure disorders that could not be helped by other pharmaceutical drugs. While it is more common for a Western doctor to recommend an herb rather than actually prescribe it, herbs and dietary improvements are becoming a more and more common component of successful medical treatments. In fact, herbal medicine is so widely used in medical plans throughout the world that the World Health Organization has recognized herbal medicine as an essential component of a primary health care plan.
Herbal Side-Effects are Less Common
Many synthetic pharmaceuticals can have extremely severe side-effects. This is a problem that has become obvious to anyone who watches daytime television. The commercial breaks during our favorite shows have become overloaded with messages about class action lawsuits seeking damages caused by synthetic drugs that were once considered safe. This has led many physicians to reconsider the use of effective herbal alternatives when possible. For instance, melatonin is a common doctor-recommended remedy for insomnia, and is often preferred over synthetic drugs which can be extremely addictive or have alarming side-effects such as night terrors and sleepwalking.
Herbs are Powerful Medicine
Herbs may be more likely to have less severe side-effects, but this does not mean that herbs are completely without side-effects or drug interactions. They can be very powerful medicines. This is why herbs should be used responsibly. Some medicinal herbs and essential oils are so effective that they can actually interfere with the actions of other pharmaceutical medications. A good example of this is St. John's Wort, which is often used to increase serotonin to treat depression. If St. John's Wort is taken with other medicines that increase serotonin levels as well, it can actually increase serotonin too much and cause anxiety and heart problems. Cranberry can increase the effect of blood thinners to the point that it causes bruising. Melatonin can drastically increase the drowsy effects of benzodiazepines, muscle relaxants and antihistamines. The list of herbal interactions between herbs and pharmaceutical medications is immense. This is why it is so important to tell your doctors, nurses and pharmacists which herbs you are taking, so that other medicines can be adjusted accordingly. In some cases, synthetic drugs that have been found to be dangerous can be completely replaced by herbal counterparts.
New Treatments are Created from Herbs Every Day
Modern research on the effectiveness of plants for treating ailments is increasing, not slowing down. As scientists search for more effective treatments for age-old and modern diseases, they are exploring the effects of certain plant derivations more often than attempting to purely synthesize a drug. This is of course why it is so important to preserve our biological diversity. Each year more rare species of plants are lost--species like the rare Florida yew, that could prove to be a powerful treatment for certain types of cancer. The fact is, human imagination in the chemistry laboratory can rarely compete with the ecological diversity created from 5 billion years worth of natural selection. The next plant to become extinct could have had the potential to save millions of human lives. To combat this problem, support companies that practice responsible farming, buy non-genetically modified products to protect ecological diversity and support companies that provide fair working conditions and wages to their producers.