Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Herbal Tea Or Pills For Your Ills?

In today’s world we have literally millions of choices when it comes to drugs, whether prescribed to us or available over the counter, to help us through everything from the common cold to injury to major illness.  Very often it is appropriate to leave ourselves in the hands of a traditional doctor and the pharmaceuticals he can provide when a condition requires more than herbal medicine can offer, but for the majority of us herbal remedies can replace many of the medications we have come to rely on.  There are three major differences between conventional pharmaceuticals and herbal medicine, which we will explore here in order for you to be able to make an informed decision the next time you need to reach for a medicine to help you through a particular problem.

The first difference is that herbal medicines, unlike conventional medicines that treat a specific symptom, treat the whole person; mind, body and spirit.  Herbal medicines help to create a balance in the body whereas conventional medicines often create an imbalance.  For example, when a patient goes on a medication to lower blood pressure he will frequently need a water pill, such as Lasix, to accompany it.  Because the water pill leeches potassium from the system the patient will then need to take potassium supplements to replace what is lost.  Taking an herbal alternative will not only save the patient from buying expensive medications but will also help to create harmony and balance in the body which will improve his general well being, uplifting and energizing the spirit.  Herbal medicines are bioactive, meaning they contain several constituents that provide vitamins, nutrients and medicinal properties that work together to heal holistically and synergistically, treating the whole person rather than a symptom or particular body function, as conventional medicines are designed to do. 

Herbal medicines are natural and, for the most part, not toxic.  They generate few to no side effects and are gentle on the body, healing in a slower but more efficient way.  Conventional medications are more often than not synthetic chemical compositions that may help one symptom or function but wreak havoc on the rest of the body.  I have often heard people say, “The cure is worse than the disease.”  There is a lot of truth in that.  I have seen it time and again in my 20 years in healthcare.  The side effects from many conventional medications cause more discomfort to the patient than the initial problem.  A perfect example is aspirin, commonly taken for headache.  When taken regularly aspirin can cause Tinnitus (ringing in the ears), which is a very uncomfortable condition, sometimes accompanied by vertigo.  Long after the patient’s headache is gone the Tinnitus can remain.  Herbal medicines, with all of their multiple healing components working together, help the body function better overall which instead of just resolving one symptom, as conventional medicines do, offers the patient the multiple benefits of increased energy and enthusiasm, better health and overall sense of wellness.  Conventional medications, at best, may alleviate one symptom and at worst may cause serious harm to the patient.  They are designed to solve one problem without focusing on the rest of the body as herbal medicines do, doing nothing for the patient’s overall health.

The second difference is that conventional medications require either a trip to the doctor to obtain a prescription or the local drug store.  This will cost the patient time as well as money.  Herbal medicines can be grown at home, unlike conventional remedies.  Common ailments such as stomachaches, sore throats, colds and flu, headaches, insomnia and indigestion can all be treated at home with plants growing in your own garden and neighborhood.  Herbal medicines can be as convenient as snipping a few leaves in the garden or herbs from the windowsill and brewing a pot of tea.  My husband and I are both prone to headaches but we no longer reach for an aspirin or ibuprofen.  Now I walk through the yard and gather various herbs, such as Catnip, Feverfew, Lemon Balm, German Chamomile, Peppermint, California Poppy and Lavender to make a healing tea.  Within ten minutes of drinking this tea our headaches are usually gone or have subsided significantly.  When we have had a stressful day at work we sit down to a soothing tea made with German Chamomile and Catnip.  This is so much better for us than popping anti-anxiety medicines to calm our nerves.  Not only is it safer but also saves us money and is very convenient and easy to do!

The third striking difference between herbal and conventional medicine is the lack
of research into the actions and benefits of medicinal herbs and plants.  While millions and millions of dollars are being spent each year on conventional drugs very little is being spent on herbal medicines.  The pharmaceutical companies do not see a large profit potential in herbal medicine because they can’t patent a plant and make a fortune from it.  Instead they take one constituent from the plant and add to it chemicals and ingredients that do nothing for human benefit in any way, market the pill and make a fortune from it but it can’t help the person using it as much as the whole plant, with all of it’s constituents working together synergistically to work at every level in the body to make the system strong from the inside out.  Therefore, if the pharmaceutical companies invested large amounts of money, time and energy into research the profits would be low in comparison to the cost of research.  Medicine derived from plants may not generate the big profits of synthetic medications.  Another reason we will likely never see major research done in the area of herbal medicine is that if extensive research were done into herbal medicines such information would be available to the public.  This would make the public more aware of what they are growing in their own backyards and neighborhoods and what they can do for themselves to treat common illnesses.  This is not what the drug companies want!  They want people dependent on their expensive drugs!  The pharmaceutical companies would likely be unable to demand big prices for drugs that come from common plants such as Dandelion and Red Clover and other wonderful plants that grow wild and are easily cultivated, making it less likely that those avenues of medicine will ever be pursued.  Due to the lack of research, many consumers and conventional practitioners alike think of herbal medicine as quackery.  But if extensive research were done perhaps those who now scoff would take a second look at herbal medicine.  Until serious scientific research is done herbal medicine may unfortunately stay in the background of medicine for years to come.

               So, the next time you have a headache, gather a bit of lavender from the garden and brew up a strong tea.  This will alleviate your headache, relax you and save you money on a pill you just don’t need! 

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