We live in a world where most people assume that natural is always better, of course for this to be true you’d have to disregard things like arsenic, hemlock and snake venom. The truth of the matter is a lot of things in the natural world can make us ill or even kill us.
The scientific communities are starting to push back and refute the faulty logic of a lot of these herbal remedies. I mean who needs modern medicine when the Chinese have been boiling weeds for hundreds of years.
Aristolochia is a herbal remedy that has been for centuries around the planet. Dating back to the days of Aristotle. Aristolochia is often prescribed as a cure-all remedy treating everything from head wounds to diarrhoea and even snake bites. However in the early 1990’s scientists became aware of a subset of Danish women who were taking a mixture of herbal compounds which included Aristolochia. They were taking it as a weight loss remedy. These women developed cancer in their urinary tracts. Further studies led scientists to conclude that in roughly 10% of people with a particular gene Aristolochia causes mutations in their DNA which leads to cancer.
Aristolochic acid is but one example. Plants produce thousands of potentially toxic compounds, many of which are synthesized with the express purpose of killing other organisms. So, why are the health dangers of herbal “remedies” not more widely known? The authors offer several reasons.
First, it often takes years before a particular environmental exposure produces symptoms. In the case of aristolochic acid, this gap can be as wide as two to three decades.
Second, practitioners of alternative medicine, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), don’t always adhere to gold-standard medical diagnostics, instead preferring to monitor a patient’s qi.
Third, the placebo effect is powerful. People can feel better after taking an herbal supplement simply because they believe they will feel better. In fact, the placebo effect is so powerful that even patients who knowingly take a placebo still feel better.
Finally, the general public and even regulatory agencies succumb to the false notion that a particular herbal supplement must be safe because “they’ve used this for centuries.” That’s simply not true, as Despair.com reminds us.
The irony in all of this is that the people who turn to “natural medicine” often do so as a way to snub modern Western medicine, which they believe is poorly regulated and purely profit-driven. Of course, the exact same thing can be said of the herbal supplement market, which the authors estimate to be a $30 billion industry.
The authors conclude by arguing for greater regulatory oversight of herbal supplements. But given the fact that alternative medicine has been essentially legitimized as mainstream by agencies such as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, their pleas will likely fall upon deaf ears.