Consumers, what do you know about your herbal product?
The practice of medicine is legally restricted in the United States to those individuals who have a license to practice from the state in which they are providing service. Generally speaking, the practice of medicine is defined as diagnosis and prescription, with a focus on the treatment of disease (please check with your local state to see the exact legal definition). Many professionals who already possess a license to treat patients, such as medical doctors, naturopathic doctors, physician’s assistants, and nurse practitioners, are starting to incorporate herbal medicine into their practice. And even some are including herbal medicine in their practice will by employing an herbalist to meet the needs of their patients with this specialty.
It is important to note that there are no legal restrictions regarding using herbal medicine for your own use or teaching others about herbal uses; nor are there any legal issues about manufacturing herbal products for personal use.
There are many forms of herbal products on the market today. The question arises, what is what? So, with that said let me briefly try to put it all in some perspective.
Most of us are familiar with herbal products at our local pharmacy in the form of tablets or capsules. Typically they are sold in the vitamin department.
More often than not these products are mass-produced, packaged and shipped to a neighborhood apothecary near you. And it would not be uncommon for the pharmacist on duty to know very little about dosing or even the product itself.
One thing that often is not on the label, and is something that each consumer will have to research for himself is the potency of the particular product, no matter what form that herb presents in. Things that one must keep in the back of their mind is that the term “natural” does not mean safe- nor does it mean unsafe; it does not mean that overdosing is impossible, nor that it may have specific drug interactions or interactions with other supplements; that “natural” automatically implies that the herb is either organic or wild crafted; in fact it does not even imply that the herb in question is safe at all or even in the product.
Let’s step back and look at the bigger picture. These products are developed and sold by people. These people want to make a profit. And just because they are selling a natural product for health does not mean they are unscrupulous nor does it imply that they have morals. First, we as consumers must take full responsibility for what we do to ourself; and that means EVERYTHING we put into our body. Whether a medical doctor, an herbalist, or our mother recommends any treatment, we should know and understand, at least, the basics behind why this particular course of action has been suggested. That means we are responsible for our own actions.
First the word natural is just that; only a word. There is no legal definition of natural. The definition of natural is designated to what the person using it intends. Think about this, natural could mean simply that it comes from the earth, that it is or was a living substance, or not a living substance as in the consideration of minerals. This does not mean that it was or wasn’t grown with man made fertilizers, or that synthetic pesticides were or were not used in the growing of it, that the soil it was grown in was or was not contaminated with heavy metals. It does not even note whether the active “pharmaceutical” compound of that particular herb is present in the product, and to what degree it may be present in. Natural is used as a key word to advertise the product. It catches your eye, and when it does you need to know what questions to ask and what to look for. Most importantly you need to know at what point when you find the answers to these questions you’ll put that substance into your body. And that is an individual and personal choice for each of us.
As with any product, allopathic or natural, before purchasing it research the company, its ethics, its standards, its manufacturing guidelines, how long has this product been on the market, and what quality assurance steps have been taken to ensure its safety for consumption as well as its medical efficacy based on the quality of “active” compound found in it. Now for some of you reading this may be a new paradigm of thought; a thought stating that you are responsible to find this information on your own and not simply rely on an advertisement, a particular practitioner or sales man, or even just trust another because he or she is in the medical field. It's your body, or your loved ones health. Don’t you want assurance that this is only the best for them?
If a product promises a miracle cure that should at least send up a red flag. Listen to what they are promising. Does it really make sense or are they hoping to play off a person’s despair for an end to their suffering? Remember that to correct the body it will take longer than overnight. Realistically it will take more than just a pill, in fact to be totally effective it will need to include a lifestyle change involving diet, exercise, and commitment. Think about it, if you have had this problem for years it has already created a foundation and atmosphere of dis-ease in your body; a condition which has grown and changed and evolved, and though miracles do happens they are rare. This is not to say that there is no hope, but instead it cautions you to be realistic, that herbology is just one spoke of the wheel, and that you may need to ride a few miles in order to see progress.
So, I say that the days of putting all the control into the hands of your health provider are gone. The day of the Medical Deity is dead. Yes, they are the experts and we do need to consult them, but each of us must assume responsibility for our own actions. We must do this by questioning why the prescribed treatment has been offered and why do they offer this particular one? Is it based on clinical studies, ancient practices, or merely a guess or assumption that this treatment may work? Do we agree with the methodology behind the prescription, and most of all are we willing to take responsibility for our own healing? If you have a provider who does not tolerate being questioned then maybe it is time to find another provider. As a provider myself I know that the true healer is the person who comes to see me; that I am just one tool in their arsenal of treatment; that I am a member of a team in that persons health care and they are in the drivers seat, whether I agree or not with their final decisions.
Then there is the idea of how the herb is grown. The FDA does not have much input on herbs or food supplements, which has its pro’s and cons. Pro being that it allows the consumer to choose how to use and dose any particular treatment. Con because it means there is minimal legal guidelines on how a product is raised, manufactured/packaged, and sold to the public. What this means is what I have already said, that as a consumer each of us must independently research the product first, prior to consumption.
Don’t forget the terms wild crafted or organic. In short wild crafted implies that the herb was grown out in the wild, in its unadulterated state in its raw environment. This means it was not cultivated. Again, wild crafted does not imply specifics. Take the herb mullen. Mullen often is seen here in New England growing along the side of a road. Technically if it were picked it would be wild crafted. But if it were picked near a busy road it would most likely be infected with the poisons and toxins of pollution such as heavy metals and salts so often left by traffic and the contaminants used in treating roads. To consume this mullen would place these contaminates into the body. Where as collecting the plant in virgin meadow miles from civilization would less likely have the same issues. It would be more pure. So, once again further investigation on the part of the consumer is necessary.
Organic or not. Well here is a loaded term. What really does organic mean? There are many definitions of what organic means by different organizations. Research what each organization defines as organic. To some it means grown without synthetics fertilizers or pesticides; while some allow some limited synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to be used; some even allow genetically altered plants to be called organic while others do not. So, once again the consumer must be educated before purchasing the herb for consumption.
Christopher Bashaw is a registered nurse with 24 years experience specializing in integrative medicine. Christopher currently is seeing patients at the Mizu Tama Dojo and White Lotus Healing Arts Clinic in Rochester, NH as well as Pinewood Medical Center at the Pinewood Healing Arts Center in Somersworth, NH. http://www.freewebs.com/mizu_tama_dojo.