3/21/2006

Alternative Medicines

Canada.com has an article on the regulation of herbal remedies. Before I begin I simply must say that if you are going to publish an article on such a subject, find someone knowledgeable on the issue to write about it. The author is clearly not familiar with the long history of herbal remedies, and his article is written from a point of ignorance.
I grew up with alternative medicines. As a child, I only ever required antibiotics two, maybe three times. I still had all of my vaccinations and flu shots, but I was not to the doctor at the drop of a hat.
My mother knows a lot about herbal remedies. All of her knowledge came from necessity. She had to learn because my father had throat cancer when I was about 12. He had more than one tumor and due to the type and amount of radiation therapy he had, he was only able to eat organic foods. He had to be in the best possible health, and his depressed immune system needed as much help as it could get. One of my younger sister's has had asthma since she was about 2 or 3 years old. She took different types of herbal teas to complement the different puffers she had to take as a child. As for myself, I have suffered from migraines for a long time, since before I started university. Once, I had a prescription for them. Occasionally I have tried different herbs, but more often than not I simply wait them off and sleep.
There are certain things that everyone should know about herbs, alternative medicines and conventional medications. The first is that chemicals for everything is not good for you. Most people use too many antibiotics and too many chemicals. They also use them incorrectly or incompletely. Advil or Tylenol for every ache or pain only builds up your resistance to the drug. It does not correct the problem. Too many people ask for a prescription without being aware of what that medication does to their body over the long haul. The human body is incredibly resilient. Often, it can simply overcome an illness without extra intervention. This makes it hardier and more able to deal with the next illness. This is particularly true of younger and more fit individuals.
Most herbs serve to boost the body's immune system. They amplify its natural defences. Most herbs do not work immediately, but improve the body's condition over time. If anyone takes echinacea expecting it to immediately cure a cold, they will be disappointed. A herb like echinacea is supposed to be taken long term and in cycles. Most herbs also serve to balance out the body. That is why they can act as either a stimulant or a sedative, depending on what the body needs. The article points out this supposed irony in the case of black horehound. Again, I must say that this is where they should have had a more knowledgeable individual writing the article.
With regards to herbs, it is a myth that just because something is natural it is safe. Most people forget that some medications are made from plant extracts. For thousands of years before synthetic drugs were invented, herbal remedies were prescribed to cure an ailment. There are certain herbs that must be taken with extreme care. For example, no pregnant woman should ever use saffron or wormwood. That is because if taken in large quantities, these plants can cause spontaneous abortions. Saffron is particularly dangerous because the difference between amount that is safe to eat, the amount that causes an upset stomach, the amount that causes an abortion and the amount that can kill you differs only by a few grams. Feverfew, a herb intended for migraines, is also not recommended during pregnancy. As with all migraine medication, it helps to shrink the dilated blood vessels that occur during a migraine. Unfortuantely, no migraine medication shrinks only the blood vessels in the head. Shrinkage usually occurs all over the body, and could therefore impact your child. Another herb, coltsfoot, is intended for topical remedies only, such as burns and skin ulcers. It should not be ingested at all, due to the fact it contains some cancer causing agents.
There are certain things that I would always recommend to anyone who prefers natural remedies. The first is garlic. Garlic has natural antibacterial agents in it. Always take it when you have a bacterial infection. It is an excellent boost to your immune system and there are no side effects, except for breath. For relief of constipation, senna is your best friend. You can buy it in pill or tea formats. It always works better than chemical laxatives, but you may have to wait until the next day for relief. Never take more than the recommended dosage. It won't harm you, per se, but you could end up with severe cramps.
Some people are more extreme in their use of alternative remedies than others. Some go as far as to shun vaccinations, all antibiotics, flu shots and the like. I am not in favour of such an approach. Balance is better. Herbal remedies complement conventional medicine; they cannot always replace it altogether. Simlarly, conventional medecine is not always the most appropriate answer.

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