Medical and pharmacy students must respect pharmaceuticals. They learn how drugs work (mechanism of action) and understand that the randomized controlled trials that lead to FDA approval are the gold standard for credibility. In most cases, the question of natural approaches or pharmaceuticals doesn’t even arise.
After all, in their med-school or pharmacy-school lectures, they hear that herbal remedies have little if any scientific support. If they learn about them at all, the focus is on problems people may encounter when they take supplements. It is little wonder that they may resist when patients ask for natural options.
Natural Approaches or Pharmaceuticals?
Q. For my entire life I have relied primarily upon vitamins, herbs and a variety of dietary supplements to stay healthy. I have avoided most drugs, except aspirin.
Now my doctor is telling me that I really need to take a number of medications to control blood pressure, normalize my thyroid (which is low) and prevent osteoporosis. I am not opposed to taking drugs, but I would like to chart a middle path between natural products when possible and prescriptions when absolutely necessary.
My doctor laughs at all my supplements. I take turmeric and boswellia for arthritis, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin D, psyllium for constipation, zinc and selenium for my thyroid, as well as melatonin for insomnia. I would like to balance my natural approach with the medications my doctor insists I must take. Is there any place I can turn to for this kind of information?
Don’t Forget–Early Medicines Came from Plants:
A. We completely understand your dilemma. Many people think that it must be one way or the other. Some folks shun medications and only seek natural solutions. Others don’t trust herbs, supplements or home remedies and stick exclusively with OTC or prescription drugs. Many physicians fall into the latter category, despite a surprising amount of science to support a natural approach. Scientists used plants as the original source for a surprising number of prescription medicines. Digoxin from foxglove and metformin from French lilac are just two examples.
We don’t think it has to be an either/or decision. When it is time to take a medicine, one should do so with full information about the benefits and risks. Knowing what side effects to be alert for will make medications safer. It is also important to know about herb-drug interactions as well as the downsides of dietary supplements.
Synthetic or Natural Thyroid Medicine?
For a sluggish thyroid gland, synthetic levothyroxine or natural desiccated thyroid supplements can make a huge difference in overall health. Picking the best product for you will require some trial and error testing. Each person is different. Many do extremely well on levothyroxine, once the dose is adjusted correctly. Others find that natural thyroid, containing both T3 and T4, works better.
Here is just one story of how patients need to participate in the process:
“I was on Armour thyroid (dried thyroid extract) for many years after having thyroid surgery, leaving only 2% intact. This presented no problems until a new doc decided that I should be on synthetic Synthroid (levothyroxine) because it was more exact.
“I hated it because I was dead tired all of the time and just had no energy. Finally, I insisted on being put back on Armour. What a difference it made.” M.S.
Help for Joint Pain:
We also believe that herbs and home remedies can ease pain and inflammation of arthritis without the side effects of some OTC and prescription drugs. But some individuals find that topical NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) provide excellent relief for sore knees without the typical complications of oral NSAIDs.
Plant Sources of Modern Medications:
When health care providers insist that patients must choose between natural approaches or pharmaceuticals, they are forgetting an important part of their education. Their teachers may not include the history of modern medicine in the lectures . However, it is critically important. Many medications that are still prescribed were originally derived from plants.
Digoxin from Foxglove for Heart Problems:
Digoxin is one of the best examples. This medication for congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation was first isolated from foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) in 1930. But doctors had been using digitalis leaves in tea to treat “dropsy” since the 18th century. That was the term for edema, which could have been caused by heart failure.
Physicians still prescribe digoxin (Lanoxin), but it has fallen into disfavor because there are newer (and pricier) medications. However, an editorial in the American Journal of Medicine (June 2022) points out that digoxin is far more affordable than many of the new heart medicines and still has a role in treating some patients with heart failure.
Metformin Derived from French Lilac Stabilizes Blood Sugar:
Scientists developed metformin, another crucial medication, by analyzing a plant. Healers started using French lilac (Galega officinalis) during the middle ages. They dispensed it for fever, bladder problems, blood disorders, constipation and edema. At that time, there were no tests for high blood sugar.
By the 1920s, however, researchers found that the herb could help control blood sugar in animals. Eventually clinical trials brought the drug to market as Glucophage (sugar eater). French health authorities approved metformin in 1957. It was not until 1994 that the FDA approved it for use in the US.
Doctors around the world still prescribe metformin for type 2 diabetes. In fact, it is the most prescribed medicine for this metabolic disorder. New research also suggests that it may have a role against certain cancers. This medication appears to improve the gut microbial balance, enhance the immune response and make cancer cells less resilient (Pharmaceuticals, April 2, 2022).
Natural Approaches or Pharmaceuticals Derived from Plants Against Cancer:
Speaking of cancer, drugs like vinblastine from Madagascar periwinkle or paclitaxel (Taxol) from the Pacific yew save lives. A review in Cancer Cell International (June 2, 2022) discussed the importance of plant-based drugs such as colchicine, vinblastine, vincristine and vinorelbine. The authors conclude that these phytochemicals continue to have “promising anti-cancer properties.”
Respect Mother Nature:
Perhaps it is time for health care professionals to develop some respect for Mother Nature’s medicines. The distinction between natural and synthetic is artificial. Our bodies use the same enzyme systems to metabolize herbs and drugs.
There is a surprising amount of research on physiological benefits of botanical medicines. The National Medical Library (PubMed) lists almost 20,000 publications about the effects of curcumin, the active ingredient in the yellow spice turmeric.
There are many other plant-based compounds from astragalus and Andrographis to green tea and ginger that have therapeutic benefit. To use them effectively, however, requires knowledge and awareness of the potential for side effects and interactions.
Increasingly, people are including fresh herbs in their food to make their diets tastier as well as more nutritious. In fairness, we must recognize that herbs, herbal extracts and plant-derived drugs have the power to heal us.
Today's Newsletter Reading List
- 1. Show 1310: How Big Pharma Broke American Health Care
- 2. Gout Attacks Increase the Risk for Heart Attacks and Strokes
- 3. Drugs That Are More Dangerous in Hot Weather
- 4. Is It Really Risky to Eat Red Meat?
- 5. Is There Lyme Disease in Your County?
- 6. Do People Shop Differently If They See Calorie Information?
- 7. What Will MSM Do for Joint Pain?
- 8. Peppermint and Probiotics for IBS
- 9. Could Toenail Fungus Be Bacterial Infection? Neosporin Cure?
- 10. Natural Approaches or Pharmaceuticals for What Ails You?
- 11. How Milk of Magnesia Cleared Stubborn Blemishes
- 12. Show 1308: Saving Money on Prescription Medications