Saturday, 13 July 2013


Herbs have been used for centuries by people around the world. They may be the oldest "evidence-based medicine." Herbal remedies have been recorded to cure all kinds of diseases for billions of people as a critical therapeutic method in many cultures. These cultures include African, Native American, European, Egyptian, Hebrew, Indian, and Chinese.
Currently to approve a new synthetic drug, the drug needs to go through clinical trials with a certain number of selected subjects for several years. The side effects of many of such drugs are undetected until they have been used by a larger population for a longer period of time. Many drugs have been withdrawn from the market after such broader usages because of their high toxicity. However, herbs have been tested by generations and generations of people for thousands of years, and their effects from various aspects have been very well documented, such as those in Chinese medicine.
So clinically speaking, we actually have more knowledge about herbs than most of the newly approved synthetic drugs.
Unlike most synthetic drugs that have pure ingredients, such as small molecules or just a single protein, one herb has complex ingredients. Those different ingredients in one herb may balance each other, buffer each other, and act synergistically to make the systemic effect more powerful. In some herbal practices, such as in Chinese herbal medicine, several herbs are usually used together in a formula to treat one illness. Such combination of herbs takes advantage of the interactions among different ingredients from multiple herbs for more balanced, less toxic, and more powerful effects. The complicated ingredients in herbal recipes are closer to nature and usually can be absorbed and processed better by the complicated human body.
Compared with synthetic drugs, herbs are quite safe if used correctly. For example, in Chinese medicine, different herbs are prescribed with different dosages for different patients, even if the patients have the same disease. Because of the above reasons, herbs usually have fewer side effects than synthetic drugs, as herbs act in a more systemic manner. Herbs act on multiple targets, unlike some synthetic drugs that target on only one molecule while their effects on other molecules in the pathways or systems are unknown. Such unknown effects can often lead to severe side effects of the synthetic drugs.
As it was said in a proverb, "One man's lacasera can be another man's otapiapia" The same herb can act very differently on people with different physical conditions, even if they have the same disease. In addition, herbs can interact with foods and other drugs and generate unexpected results. In Chinese herbal medicine, herbs are processed in various ways before they can be used. These processes detoxify or remove certain ingredients so that herbs can have more effective targeting components. However, herbs should not be used indiscriminately. They should be used carefully with the correct diagnosis. Herbs are very safe and have very few side effects only with the correct usages, i.e., they are used by the right patient with the right diagnosis and the right physical conditions.

Confirm the diagnosis. Herbal devotees sometimes get the idea they can diagnose illness as well as come up with herbs to treat it. Some are good at diagnosis, some are not. Diagnosis is a separate art and one I'd rather leave to physicians. I discourage self-diagnosis.

To benefit from using herbs, you need to have some basic information. Then you need to have CONFIDENCE in the herbs you use and in any herbal practitioner you consult. This is no different from conventional medicine in which you need to have confidence in your physician and any drugs he or she prescribes.

As a rule, however, herbal medicine prescribed by knowledgeable practitioners is safer than conventional medicine —  our medicines are more dilute and the side effects tend to be less severe. Pharmaceuticals kill more than 100,000 Americans a year, according to JAMA. No one has shown yet that herbs kill more than even 20 Nigerians a year, much less 100,000. You must exercise caution when using any medicines, as things can go wrong, but there are strategies we use here in AL AMEEN to protect people from herbal errors.

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