In my years as a holistic nutritionist, I have been aware of the patterns that creep into my practice. The most culturally significant would be the kind of person who gravitates towards me. Let me explain.
70% of my clients have been over 45 years old and have a clinically diagnosed pathology. In other words, they have been involved in the conventional medical model for many years, in many cases for decades.
So what leads them to an "alternative" health practitioner?
I believe the simple answer is Trust. If you are part of a system or organization where progress and evolution are not present, your trust in this entity inevitably diminishes. Client after client told me their story about how they went to several doctors, tried every kind of medication, and nothing helped. Many of them would report a short period after their first prescription, where they began to feel better, but soon after they returned to their symptoms, with consequential side effects.
This leads us to a discussion about the benefits, beliefs and facts around herbal therapies versus synthetic drugs.
I think the best way to look at pharmaceutical medications and herbal remedies is this.
Medications are a potential short-term solution to a deep-rooted problem, one that causes natural bodily functions to stop or enhance, and herbal remedies are a potential long-term solution that actually helps the body restore function on its own. Two massively different things!
Locating the Canadian stats was difficult, so I have to use US information that is far from perfectly reported.
In the USA, around 8% of hospital admissions are due to adverse reactions or side effects of synthetic drugs (1). Approximately 100,000 people die each year due to these toxicities. People also die from "safe" over the counter medications. You will struggle to find a death attributed to a natural health product.
*It is important to note that the US consumes more pharmaceuticals than any other country.
Due to the lack of adverse reactions within herbal formulas, side effects are more commonly referred to as indications or contraindications.
After a pathological diagnosis, a pharmaceutical medication is prescribed to address a patient's symptoms. What is not spoken about almost often enough is how many people come out of a medical appointment with the wrong diagnosis! This means the wrong course of treatment and the wrong prescription. A problem.
Herbal remedies are effective and can act as agonists or potentiate drugs. Care must be taken,
The whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts.
Herbal medicines are complex, they often consist of many compounds that make up the entire plant. You cannot imitate the actions of a complex organism by purifying and isolating certain components (2,3).
Pharmaceutical drugs are designed to stimulate a specific reaction, and the "side effects" are a beneficial trade off for those potential reactions.
Herbal medicine, however, has a broader, naturally synergistic effect on many physiological systems. These broader reactions are often difficult to explain with medical terminology.
Instead of directly treating the primary concern, most herbalists focus on supporting the body's systems so that the body can recover its strength and healing potential. The body can then focus its attention on dealing with the present condition.
Neither patients nor doctors should use herbal medicines for complex diseases without knowledge.
Drug, supplement or herbal therapy, everything has its place!
In conclusion, I believe everyone must consider their own individual circumstances. This means self-assessment, self-responsibility and self-reliance.
I use the words individual and self deliberately, because no doctor has the time or resources to do this for you. If you go into a conventional doctors office with no ideas, resources, or self analysis, you immediately hand over all responsibility to whatever you get prescribed. On a personal level, this is irresponsible, and will not get to the root of your issues.
Only a holistic approach has that ability.
If you have no idea how to become your own health advocate, this is where a naturopath, nutritionist or other natural health practitioner comes in.
Personal ownership of health was the beginning of many remarkable recovery stories. I have seen them with my own eyes.
Everything has its place.
Simon Brazier. Dip HN, NNCP
Philomena G. Concerns regarding the safety and toxicity of medicinal plants - An overview. J Appl Pharmaceut Sci 2011; 1(6): 40-4.
Rafieian-Kopaei M, Baradaran A, Rafieian M. Oxidative stress and the paradoxical effects of antioxidants. J Res Med Sci 2013; 18(7): 628. 28.
Rafieian-Kopaei M. Medicinal plants and the human needs. J HerbMed Plarmacol 2012; 1(1): 1-2.