Herbal medicine is often safer than pharmaceuticals

In the wake of the recent news that herbal medicine will now be kitemarked for safety reasons, it might be a good time to talk about the relative safety of herbal medicine as compared to its more orthodox equivalent.

According to the groundbreaking 2003 medical report, Death by Medicine, (Gary Null, Carolyn Dean, Martin Feldman, Debora Rasio and Dorothy Smith) nearly 800,000 people in the United States alone die every year from the mistakes of conventional medicine. In reviewing thousands of medical records, the authors came to the conclusion that the United States spends $282 billion annually on deaths due to medical mistakes, or iatrogenic deaths. But that may just be the tip of the iceberg. Only a small number of medical errors are reported, according to the study. Actual medical mistakes are likely to be 20 times higher than the reported number because doctors fear litigation for those mistakes.

But that is just the United States. It doesn’t even begin to examine what must be even higher fatality figures that must occur in third world countries where new drugs are tried out.

Of course there are mistakes made by herbal medicine practitioners. No system of medicine is foolproof, and mistakes are made. But in the UK, the government’s recent announcement that herbal practitioners must be registered will only help in bringing that form of medicine out of the shadows and, hopefully, on to the high streets.

Greater visibility and transparency usually leads to higher benchmarks and standards.

Is herbal medicine an effective form of therapy?

Over the last 15 years, there has been a huge rise in the number of studies and/or research papers written on herbal medicine and its effectiveness. But coming to an overall conclusion on whether or not herbal medicine is an effective form of therapy seems to be difficult because of the standards of testing.

It is reported that often the trials which show the most positive results have been the worst conducted, and vice versa, and hence there needs to be a standard for testing.

However, many plants are already used in conventional medical practices and commonly used drugs, proving that these particular ones have been tested for efficacy.

It should only be a matter of time before testing is conducted to a certain standard. In the meantime, the fact that herbal medicine has been used for thousands of years in many countries around the world would tend to suggest that it must be good for something!

It is estimated by the World Health Organisation that 80 per cent of the world’s population uses herbal medicine in some form or another within primary health care.

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