Herbs are our native medicine and they are the botanical origin of prescription drugs.
To classify herbal medicine or phytotherapy as alternative medicine is a contentious issue. While plants have been used for thousands of years to sustain human and animal lives, I do not see how it could be characteristically alternative.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges the essential role of conventional medicine in the care of acute diseases and trauma, while highlighting that, in the area of managing chronic disease conditions, conventional medicine can be lacking in efficacy. Complementary medicine, such as herbal medicine, seems to offer a gentle and increasingly relevant means of managing chronic diseases.
As a matter of fact, nature provides us with 70 per cent of prescription drugs. The drugs are derived from, or are similar to, chemicals found in nature. For example, Metformin, the most widely prescribed drug for the treatment of diabetes, can be traced back to the use of the herb Goat’s Rue. Herbalists (such as myself) are still using Goat’s Rue to treat this condition. The difference between the two is that Goat’s Rue does not cause side effects like cardiovascular weakness and other nutrient depletion, while Metformin does.
For effectiveness, herbs must be used in an integrative approach that factors in the interaction between body, mind, and soul. All too often, I am asked: “What can I take to cure this disease?” The relevant question would be: What can I do to cure this condition? A treatment usually requires a holistic approach and customized herbal formulation.
You might ask: Why can’t our health care system recommend herbs to treat diseases?
One major reason is that drug companies (who are often the sponsors of hospitals) have limited interests in researching on a non-patentable agent, such as whole herbs. You can’t make a lot of money if something cannot be patented. Further, our health insurance is tied to the dominant medical system. I often have patients who refuse to try naturopathy because it is not claimable. This is not the case in Australia and Europe. It is sad that they should miss the opportunity to be healed because of this.
Why are human rights not exercised in the area of choosing health care modality?
Why are we locked into a closed system where someone else chooses what they think is best for you? Should we not think for ourselves?
Why are we not able to claim insurance for naturopathy and other complementary medicine treatments?
In this engaging period of national conversations, we should perhaps start asking and discussing these questions in the public domain.Pax (Peace)
Sebastian Liew, MNHAA (Australia)