Natural Remedies


| March/April 1999

'The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest patients in the maintenance of the human frame, in diet and in the prevention of disease.'-Thomas Edison

Natural Medicine Section:

Medicine for the 21st Century

Natural Remedies

Botanicals and Nutraceuticals: What's Next?


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Many alternative therapies may work, but are they really more effective than conventional ones? Questions about safety and effectiveness seem so simple, but are they?

First of all, just because something is labeled 'natural' doesn't necessarily mean that it is completely safe. Let's get real: there are plenty of extremely poisonous substances in nature. Conventional drugs are not dangerous because they are 'un-natural' but because their manufacturers concentrate often powerful chemicals and recommend them in doses which will supposedly benefit a large number of people, despite the fact that each person will have their own variation of the disease to be treated. Although there are poisons in nature, it is much more difficult to experience poisonous effects from a botanical source or nutritional supplement than from a conventional drug. Comparing degrees of safety between a drug and a 'natural medicine' is simply silly. That said, it must also be acknowledged that vitamin and botanical manufacturers are commonly placing concentrated doses of these natural ingredients in their products. Their long-term effects remain unknown and what interactions they have when taken in conjunction with conventional drugs is likewise uncertain.

Along with these problems is the fact that certain people have hypersensitivities to various natural substances and can and will over-react to them. Even though a person's symptoms may worsen as a result of a vitamin, an herb, or a homeopathic medicine, this doesn't necessarily mean that it is not 'safe' or efficacious and should therefore be taken off the market or made available only upon prescription from a doctor. If the FDA or any other regulatory agency sought to limit access to natural medicines because of this, then perhaps they should also make milk available by prescription due to the fact that many Americans, especially black Americans, are allergic to it. It will take many years, even many decades, before extensive research and clinical experience begins to clarify these important issues. An equally critical issue today is the effectiveness of natural medicines. The Journal of the American Medical Association published an entire issue on alternative medicine (Nov 11, 1998). One of the studies found that a mixture of 20 Chinese herbs was effective in treating inflammatory bowel syndrome. There are, however, serious limitations in controlled studies. It is unknown what the result of the Chinese herbal medicine study would be if just one of the herbs wasn't in the formula or if the formula was not in the precise proportions tested in the study. And although this study evaluated results over eight months, it remains unknownwhat its long-term effects are. Even more significant is that this study and the vast majority of others do not evaluate a person's overall health. A treatment may diminish specific symptoms but aggravate others. Does this mean that the person's health was really improved? Were the symptoms simply temporarily relieved, or worse, were the symptoms simply suppressed, leading toa more serious ailment in the future? Such is the problem with scientificstudies that primarily evaluate a person's health by a limited number ofsymptoms or characteristics. As much as we must honor science and its methods, we must avoid 'science envy' and its assumption that it is the best or only method of acquiring knowledge.

We must also become more aware of 'borrowed science,' the common practice of reputable, well-known companies conducting high quality research on their product and then another company making a similar, though different, produc t. Just because several studies have found ginkgo or garlic to have specifictherapeutic benefits does not mean that every company that makes a product does so in a way that it is identical to the way the researched product was made. We now have more choices than ever for products and services to improve our health. With such an array of choices comes the hard part of figuring out what to do. Educate yourself. Educate yourself further. Consider finding a trustworthy health professional to work with you on developing an individualized program. Finally, observe what works and what doesn't. Doctors are said to 'practice' medicine. We need to 'practice' health.

WELLNESS CHOICES IN THE MILLENIUM
A Road Map to What's New


As we approach the millennium the use of dietary supplements, herbs, and homeopathic remedies will play an even larger role in the self-managed care revolution that is sweeping America. Today, many important new natural products are being introduced that deserve your attention. Here are some key new products to watch:


Acetyl-l-carnitine, a component of the carnitine family, promotes healthy nerve and brain functioning. Two recent studies show that it helps improve cognition and memory in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

Alpha lipoic acid, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the body by promoting cellular energy production, is regarded as being key to an effective and comprehensive antioxidant protection system.
Ipriflavone, a naturally occurring isoflavone, has been shown to increase bone mineral density, enhance calcium utilization, and stimulate bone-forming cells, all invaluable in dealing with osteoporosis.

Kava Kava (Piper methysticum), used as a ceremonial beverage for centuries in the South Pacific islands, has a relaxing effect on the central nervous system, helping reduce anxiety, tension and restlessness with no accompanying loss of mental clarity.

Lutein, a carotenoid related to beta-carotene, plays a key role in maintaining healthy vision by contributing to the density of the macular pigment in the retina of the eyes. Lutein may contribute to overall health via its positive effects on the immune system.
--James Strohecker

DANA ULLMAN, M.P.H. has authored six books, including Homeopathy A-Z (HayHouse, 1999), The Consumer's Guide to Homeopathy, and Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicine (with Stephen Cummings, MD). He founded Homeopathic Educational Services: (http://www.homeopathic.com) which has 100 articles onhomeopathy plus a full catalogue of homeopathic books, tapes, medicines, correspondence courses, and software.