The Politics of Herbs

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that nearly 80 % of the world population is dependent on traditional medicine for primary health care. Herbal medicine constitutes a large part of what is practiced as traditional medicine around the world. WHO has published guidelines for the assessment of herbal medicines in an attempt to help the ministries of health of all governments develop regulations that ensure medicines are labeled properly, and that consumers and practitioners are given proper directions for their use.

However, expert FDA (Food and Drug Administration) panels that stringently review over-the-counter- drug ingredients for safety and efficacy have eliminated many herbal ingredients from sanctioned use in nonprescription medicine.

At the same time, the FDA is banning formerly used herbal ingredients from use in over-the-counter drugs, an increasingly large segment of the population is requesting and using natural medicines.

Herbal medicine is more readily accepted in Europe than in the United States.The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, though not officially recognized by Parliament, is nevertheless the accepted publication in the field. In Germany, the Ministry of Health has a seperate commission that deals exclusively with herbal medicine. German doctors study herbal medicine in medical school, and since 1993, all physicians in Germany must pass a section on these medicines in their board exams before becoming licenced.

As part of the unifying efforts going on among members of the European community, European physicians, health professionals and researchers have formed ESCOP, the European Scientific Cooperative for Phytotherapy. This organization is publishing monographs on individual herbs used in clinical medicine as well as those used for self-medication. These monographs, representing the culmination of all the scientific information known on each herb, are intended to be published in the next edition of the European Pharmacopoeia and will become the guiding information for regulations of each herb in all of Europe.

There is no licensing body for the practice of herbal medicine in the United States. The result is that many herbal practitioners are outside of the "system". However, there are numerous qualified practitioners of herbal medicine who utilize approaches based on either the Western bio-medical model, or on Oriental approaches, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Within the Western medical community, naturopathic physicians have a solid foundation in botanical medicine and phytochemistry.

A Herb User's Guide

Herbal remedies should be taken only when you need them. If you lack experience in the use of herbal medicines, here area few points to keep in mind.

1) Be careful of your sources. Herbs are not subject to the same degree of government scrutiny (!) as pharmaceutical drugs; there is no independent guarantee of purety or potency. Therefore, it is up to you to select reputable brands.

2) Choose the most reliable forms. Tinctures and freeze-dried herbs are prepared using techniques for preventing spoilage and loss of potency. Dried herbs, which are sold in bulk, powdered or encapsulated, may loose potency rapidly because of their exposure to air.

3) More is not better. When taking a herbal remedy, take the recommended dosages at the suggested intervals. As with pharmaceuticals, overdosing with herbs can have ill effects.

4) Monitor your reactions. At the first sign of an allergic reaction, stop the medication. Or, if the herb doesn't seem to be working, discontinue it; not all remedies work for everyone.

5) Take no risks. Never attempt self-medication for serious ailments or injuries; see a doctor or go to a hospital emergency room. Pregnant or lactating women, the very young or old, and people who are taking medication should not use herbal remedies without their physician's approval.

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