Herbs touted as alternatives to pills
September 22, 2005
SUMMIT COUNTY – These days, as many people are as likely to have heard of chamomile tea as a relaxant as they are to have heard of Valium.As herbal remedies become more mainstream, people are turning to them as an alternative or as a complement to prescription drugs. The most common need Frisco acupuncturist Lacey Story said she sees in her clients is stress management, so she recommends herbs that act as relaxants.DangersWhile most of the time herbal remedies are safe, there are some precautions to take.For example, a recent visitor to Summit County had a seizure after taking gingko biloba for mild altitude sickness. He didn’t know that the blood-thinning medication he was on, Coumadin, had interactions with a number of medications and herbs – gingko being one of them.
“Though most botanicals are safe, we do hear negative news about herbs: Kava-kava causing liver damage, gingko causing hemorrhage and ephedra causing death,” said Kim Nearpass, a natropath in Frisco. She says most of the negative effects occur because people use an herb improperly. For example, they may take too high of a dose, use isolated extracts of the herb or improperly combine herbs with pharmaceutical medications. She tells people who suffer from disease, take prescription drugs, are pregnant or have questions to consult a doctor. Let’s face it: It wouldn’t be wise to take large doses of Valium or mix it with other drugs you don’t know much about, so why would you do that with herbs?BenefitsThat said, studies have shown that herbs can be effective in treating a variety of ailments. “History also provides ample information,” Nearpass said. “As far back as we know, humans have used herbal medicine to treat ailments. If herbs were inherently dangerous, we’d probably have rendered ourselves extinct by now.”
One benefit of herbs is that they generally don’t have side effects like most prescription drugs. In general, prescription medications work because they block biochemical pathways. This inhibits functions downstream from the specific pathway, causing side effects.Herbs usually work by enhancing rather than blocking pathways. “The result is usually a much gentler result, with fewer undesirable effects,” Nearpass said. Drugs that came into wide use as medicine tried to control or cure modern diseases caused either by exposure to toxins – such as pesticides, plastics, heavy metals and chlorofluorocarbon – or eating processed foods with additives, she said.Dealing with limitationsPrescription drugs are controlled. Herbs only are loosely monitored by the Food and Drug Administration, which means they have very little quality control. Though a regulation called the Good Manufacturing Process does place guidelines on the production of herbal supplementation, companies are not required to adhere to these practices.”The effectiveness of the treatment depends on the entire process of herbal growth and processing,” Story said. “It depends on the soil, the geographic area, how it’s harvested, and how it’s processed.”
So how do you know if an herbal product is any good, or if it even contains the herb it says it does?”Unfortunately, you don’t,” Nearpass said.Doctors and other health care professionals who deal with herbs should research companies and use only those they trust, she said. The healing properties of herbs are most effective when the manufacturers preserve the whole plant. She says ingesting the whole plant straight from the ground would be optimal, but she recognizes that’s not practical, she said. Vail, Colorado