There is increasing evidence of the link between climatic factors and the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases, including dengue, malaria, tuberculosis, and other viral diseases (Patz, Epstein, Burke and Balbus, 1996). The transmission of diseases has also worsened with frequent travel, human migration, malnutrition, and poor diets in those who lead a fast-paced and stressful lifestyle.
At the same time, antibiotic/antimicrobial resistance among microbes is increasing (Burke, 1998; Martinez et al., 2009). The long term consumption of hormone-/ antibiotic-treated meat products, including poultry and dairy, worsen our immunity. This is the reason for my emphasis on digestive health. More than 70% of our immunity lies in our gut.
Herbs prevent drug resistance
Modern phytotherapy research has confirmed what has been known by our ancestors: plants and herbs can enhance our body defence mechanisms to fight against viral, bacterial and fungal infections. They are able to perform the role not by attacking the microorganisms (as in the case of antibiotics) directly, but by enhancing the host’s resistance (Bergner, 2005, p.1). In this way, we are able to prevent drug resistance.
Therefore, it was not surprising to me that a study by the National Cancer Centre (Singapore) found that cancer patients who take complementary medicine, such as herbs and nutritional supplements, come down with fewer infections than those who do not (The Straits Times, June 14, 2012). The difference in outcome between users and non-users is starker among patients with stage 4 cancer.
Effectiveness of herbal medicine is dose-dependent
Herbs may have value in enhancing immunity and fighting infection, but the effect is dose-dependent; in order to be effective, it must be of pharmacological dose – the dose that is observed in clinical trials and research studies, and not merely the low dose used in traditional medicine.
Medical herbalism versus traditional medicine/health supplement
There is a difference between traditional medicine and health supplement, and the medicine I practise – medical herbalism. The concentration of ingredients and dosage recommendation in commercial health supplements may not be medically effective, and they are categorically a ‘supplement’.
Sebastian Liew, MNHAA (Australia)
Bergner, P. (2005). Anti-viral botanicals in herbal medicine. Medical Herbalism, 14(3), 1–12.
Burke, J. P. (1998). Antibiotic resistance — Squeezing the balloon. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 280(14), 1270–1271. doi: 10.1001/jama.280.14.1270
Patz, J. A., Epstein, P. R., Burke, T. A., & Balbus, J. M. (1996). Global climate change and emerging infectious diseases. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 275(3), 217–223. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530270057032
Martinez, J. L., Fajardo, A., Garmendia, L., Hernandez, A., Linares, J. F., Martínez-Solano, L., & Sánchez, M. B. (2009). A global view of antibiotic resistance. FEMS Microbiology Reviews, 33, 44–65. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6976.2008.00142
Neuhouser, M.L., Wassertheil-Smoller, S., Thomson, C., Aragaki, A., Anderson, G.L., Manson, J.E., Patterson, R.E., Rohan, T.E., van Horn, L., Shikany, J.M., Thomas, A., LaCroix, A., Prentice, R.L.(2009). Multivitamin Use and Risk of Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease in the Women’s Health Initiative Cohorts. Archives of Internal Medicine, 169(3), 294-304, doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2008.540. Retrieved from http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?volume=169&issue=3&page=294
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