Herbal Medicine

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Medicinal plants play an important role in traditional western medicine. Numerous case studies and anecdotal evidence illustrate the positive influence of plant medicine on a variety of health issues. 

Today we are fortunate to have extensive scientific research and clinical experience with herbal medicine, giving us a better understanding and appreciation for natural remedies that have been used effectively for centuries. 

How is herbal medicine different from pharmaceuticals?

Herbal medicines employ the entire plant (root, flower, leaf, rhizome, etc), consisting of numerous physiologically active components capable of impacting multiple pathways in the body.  They are not formulated to treat specific diseases, such as arthritis or diabetes.  However, custom compounded herbal medicines can provide effective full-body treatment of illness that is not limited to symptomatic relief. In contrast, modern pharmaceuticals are manufactured as single active principles that can be used alone or in combinations to target one specific health goal. These synthetic drugs can still can impact several unrelated body systems, and as isolated components may also cause adverse side effects not commonly seen in their natural environment. 

Are herbal medicines safe?

Yes – when administered properly they have minimal to no side effects. Herbs (plant/botanical medicines) nevertheless have a profound effect on the human body and should be used as carefully as any pharmaceutical. Because they consist of many active medicinal constituents, herbal medicines can work  synergistically for a holistic treatment approach, as well as target specific body systems.

Occasionally herbal medicine will be recommended for topical use - for example, as poultices to apply to weakened areas of the body to promote healing. Adding herbs to baths, skin sprays or salves, steam inhalations and meals are other ways that a complementary medical doctor may prescribe herbal medicine to you.

Is herbal medicine really effective?

Effectiveness of herbal preparations is directly linked to dose, frequency and choice of herb. The main reason you hear of herbs not working is due to inappropriate dosing or using the incorrect herb for the illness. It's important to work in partnership with a licensed practitioner to be sure you're given the appropriate dose of herbs that are custom selected or compounded specifically for you. 

Can I take herbal formulas in place of my medications?

It can be very dangerous to abruptly discontinue prescription medications, and extremely difficult for a lay person to choose an acceptable alternative(s) to their treatment. Support is always available for patients who are seeking to reduce their pharmaceutical use. However, to insure safety and the highest quality of care, you will be required to consult with your prescribing physician(s) before any medication changes will be made. 

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© Margery A. Manuli, M.D. 2020