For thousands of years, people all over the world have been using herbs to treat a variety of ills. Western medicine still remains largely skeptical of the ability of herbs to effectively treat illness, but acceptance of, interest in, and research regarding this mode of treatment has greatly expanded in recent years. While most practitioners would stop short of fully endorsing a natural therapy as being equal or superior to prescription medications, regardless of the research available, many are becoming more open to exploring these options with patients. As more and more prescription medications are found to be ineffective and/or dangerous, people are interested in improving their health through more natural means. If you are interested in using herbal medicine, here are some important considerations.
Natural Does not Always Equal Safe
While by and large, herbal medicines enjoy a much stronger safety profile than prescription drugs, natural does not automatically translate to safe. Like drugs, herbs contain a variety of substances that affect the body in different ways. In certain circumstances, these actions can be harmful. Herbs can interact with other drugs, causing problems such as reducing effectiveness or increasing negative side effects. For example, St. John’s wort, which has been shown to be effective in relieving symptoms in mild to moderate depression, is known to interfere with the metabolism of a large number of medications.
If you have certain health conditions, particular herbs may be inappropriate. For example, kava, commonly used to treat anxiety, may increase the risk of liver damage in people who suffer from conditions affecting this organ. Some herbs are very potent and using them is similar to using a prescription drug. Red yeast rice is one good example. This popular Chinese remedy naturally contains statins, a substance found in a commonly prescribed class of cholesterol-lowering drugs, and it is prudent to use it under the supervision of a doctor.
If you suffer from any sort of health condition, or you are taking prescription drugs, it is important to educate yourself about any herbs you are thinking about taking to ensure they do not pose a risk to you. Never hide the use of herbs from your health care provider.
Natural Medicine Requires Patience and Consistency
We tend to be impatient when it comes to improving our health. We want results as quickly as possible, and when we do not see them right away, we conclude our strategies are not working and we give up. Herbal remedies operate differently than prescription medications, which can affect changes in your body very quickly. Depending on the condition, and the herb you are using, it can take several weeks, sometimes up to two months or longer, before you begin to notice any difference in your condition. Do not start taking herbal medicines with the expectation that your health will improve in a couple of days. Chasteberry, or vitex, is a great example. Used to treat a variety of female problems from irregular periods to infertility, it may require up to six months of use before your hormone levels normalize and your condition improves. Read up on the herbal treatment and its proposed use for your condition, and you can get an idea of how long it may take before you can tell if it is working for you or not. Be consistent with use—take it exactly as you are instructed at the recommended dose.
Tips for Buying Herbal Supplements
First and foremost, be cautious about buying herbs that were made in other countries. Safety and manufacturing requirements can differ greatly from countries like the United States or Canada. Many foreign supplements have been found to contain harmful additives, toxins or prescription medications not listed on the label. In these instances, it may be safer to order the herbs in their whole form and make your own formulations. Look for herbal supplements that carry the ‘’Good Manufacturing Practices’’ stamp.
Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who enjoys blogging about natural medicine; if you are interested in purchasing medicinal herbs, she recommends visiting the The Growers Exchange.