What sources are to be believed when it comes to herbs and prescription drugs? The advertisers? The articles planted in magazines by manufacturers? Something your neighbor told you? A news story on TV that was actually written by vested interests? The latest results of some attention-grabbing new research that was paid for by those same interests? In other words, how can you separate fact from fiction to make choices that are in the best interests of your own health and well-being?
A basic understanding of herbs and prescription drugs can aid you in making decisions that support your better health.
Herbs & Pharmaceuticals
1. The difference between herbs and prescription is that herbs are botanical agents made by nature, while prescription drugs are chemical agents made in the laboratory (with few exceptions).
2. They each have a different history. Herbs have been around forever. They have been used as medicines since time began – to prevent and treat diseases, aid recovery, adapt to stress, eliminate toxins, relieve pain, aid digestion, clear congestion, lift the mood, reduce nausea and vomiting, clear infections, reduce inflammation, reduce cramping, stimulate colon cleansing, build health and vitality and more. It is the true traditional medicine. Using herbs to address such physical health issues is called phytotherapy. Prescription drugs have been around since 1890 or so.
3. Herbs have effects. Herbs are used for the most part for supporting the body to do what it is designed to do. Pharmaceuticals have both effects and side effects. They are used to reduce or eliminate symptoms. This is accomplished by stimulating, suppressing or replacing some bodily function. Because drugs interfere with or substitute for substances or processes inherent to the living body, they carry powerful toxicities. In other words, they are directed against biological process.
4. The same pharmaceutical agent is employed with everyone who has the same symptom. The assumption is that if the symptom is the same, the treatment will also be the same. For example, high cholesterol is treated with statins. While herbs can also be used for symptom control, use of herbs has a different aim. It is based on the assumption that this symptom which appears to be the same in a number of people, is the body’s way of dealing with a problem, that forcing the body not to have the symptom (high cholesterol) doesn’t solve it, and that suppressing symptoms makes them worse. The problem (the inflammation giving rise to the high cholesterol) is still there, but the suppressing agent handicaps the body in its attempts to resolve the cause. And it recognizes that the symptom (high cholesterol, in this example) is a result of inflammation, which can have unique causes for each individual. That’s why several people with high cholesterol might each take different herbs to address their condition.
The Relationship between Herbs and Drugs
The large majority of the population of the earth – especially in emerging nations, still depends on medicinal plants and herbal medicines for primary care. The World Health Organization estimates that well over 75% of the world’s population currently uses herbs in this way. Naturally, this means that there are any number of traditions and systems used to employ herbs. Four primary traditions operate currently: Ayurveda, Unani/Tibb, traditional Chinese medicine and Western herbal medicine.
The other 25% of the world population depends largely on modern pharmaceuticals. These patented medicines used today are actually based on herbal medicines and many still come from herbs. In short, herbs are a major source of drugs and the development of synthetic drugs. For example:
· the heart medicine digitalis is from Foxglove,
· the antispasmodic Atropine is extracted from the deadly Nightshade,
· the first antibiotic is from Penicillin mold,
· painkillers are from the Opium Poppy,
· muscle relaxants from Valarian,
· aspirin is from White Willow Bark.
According to World Resources Institute, forest peoples originally discovered the medicinal uses of three-quarters of the plant-derived drugs currently in wide use. In the northwestern Amazon alone, indigenous people use at least 1,300 plant species.
Modern drug companies still have their agents scouring the rainforest and living with the indigenous healers. Because natural herbs cannot be patented, their aim is to learn the skills of herbal medicine and translate them into patentable – and therefore highly profitable – synthetic medications in the laboratory.
Despite this dependence on herbs, the marketing arm of the pharmaceutical industry constantly releases inaccurate information to the public about herbs. They fund studies to elicit negative effects and then sound the alarm by placing stories throughout the media that herbs are dangerous.
They also operate in the political arena to have herbs removed from the marketplace. One documented negative reaction is often sufficient to stimulate contact with well-placed political officials (who often received campaign donations through the drug company). The official then places a rider on a bill to prevent the legal use of the herb. If this succeeds, it leaves the marketplace wide open for the patented pharmaceutical derived from the herb, which can then be marketed free of competition.
This is especially obvious when an herb is an effective agent but its availability competes with a pharmaceutical product. Such was the case when the herb Kava Kava, an effective relaxant and sleep remedy, was removed from the marketplace because it presents an effective alternative to Ambien(®), the sleep aid that was being promoted at that time. (Kava is since back on the market).
Nonetheless, the need for the phytotherapeutic approach at this time in history is underscored by some alarming statistics. They reveal that, regarding properly prescribed pharmaceuticals:
in the U.S. in 2011 doctors wrote 4.2 billion prescriptions – a little more than one per month for every man, woman and child;
· 100,000 people die from adverse drug reactions each year;
· another 200,000 per year are seriously injured from adverse reactions;
· more than 4,000 people every day are admitted to hospitals due to adverse drug reactions;
· properly prescribed pharmaceuticals are the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.;
when improperly prescribed pharmaceuticals are added, they rise to the third leading cause of death after heart attacks and cancer;
· more that 50% of all medicines are not correctly prescribed, dispensed and sold;
· 68 million prescriptions each year contain some sort of error.
Meanwhile, there is all manner of debate about illness and even deaths due to use of herbs. However, even counting all those blamed on herbal use, the statistics don’t even begin to match the huge numbers from pharmaceutical drug use.