Everything You Need To Know About Herbal Medicine
Herbal medicine has been used for millennia to treat several pathologies and reduce the risk of other conditions.
These herbs are rich in compounds that possess antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties, which make them the perfect choice to treat infections, promote cardiovascular health, and optimize the function of the immune system.
In this article, I have teamed up with a certified physician and we will cover the major differences between herbal and conventional medicine, as well as the potential benefits certain herbs (e.g., cat’s claw, turmeric, ashwagandha) to optimize your health.
History of herbal medicine
According to archaeological evidence, the use of plants for medicinal purposes began in the Paleolithic age (approximately 60,000 years ago).
As for written evidence, scientists found that Sumerians used plants and herbs to address various diseases 5,000 years ago.
Since then, several civilizations
(e.g., ancient Egypt, ancient Greek, Roman empire) have all used herbal medicine as a mainstream therapeutic approach.
However, the age of herbal medicine really prospered when Eastern nations (e.g., China, India) started experimenting on the uses of herbs and plants in treating various conditions.
Today, millions of people around the globe believe in the great potential of herbal medicine and favour it over pharmaceutical medicine.
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“If you have any specific questions about any medical matter, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider”
“If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention”
The difference between herbal medicine and conventional medicine
The primary difference between herbal medicine and conventional pharmacological drugs is the number of chemicals (i.e., ingredients) found in each product.
For instance, turmeric contains a variety of chemicals that benefit different organ systems and optimize well-being and general health.
On the other hand, a drug such as aspirin only contains one chemical (Salicylic Acid), which targets specific functions of the body (e.g., inflammation).
This difference is the number one reason behind the high incidence of side effects when taking pharmacological drugs, as the active ingredient is present in very high concentrations.
The side effects of pharmacological drugs
One major problem with conventional pharmacological drugs is their heavy side effect profile.
Because these substances contain several artificial chemicals and industrialized compounds, the risk of causing serious side effects is relatively higher compared to herbal medicine.
Painkillers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), are commonly taken to temper down any source of pain (e.g., back pain, headaches).
This drug works by inhibiting certain metabolic pathways that produce painful sensations. When the action of Tylenol is over, the drug gets metabolized and excreted by hepatocytes (i.e., liver cells), which use numerous enzymes to break it down.
Unfortunately, taking this drug regularly in large doses predisposes people to a condition known as drug-induced liver injury, where the liver cells die in massive numbers, which could lead to a debilitating state of liver failure and cirrhosis.
Other commonly used drugs include aspirin and ibuprofen, which are notoriously known for causing serious side effects, such as bleeding, gastric perforation, and disrupted hemostasis (i.e., blood clotting process).
These adverse effects are seen with every pharmacological drug on earth, regardless of the treated condition’s severity.
For fairness’ sake, herbs and plants can also lead to some side effects; however, the incidence of these situations is extremely low.
You see, for herbs to cause serious side effects, you need to consume insanely large quantities, which is physically unachievable.
The primary benefits of herbs
Eastern herbs have shown amazing immune-modulating effects that optimize the functioning of different cells to increase their microbiocidal efficiency.
For instance, turmeric and ginger maintain the balance between pro inflammatory cytokines and anti-inflammatory compounds to render the immune system more efficient at destroying bacteria and viruses.
Other herbs such as cat’s claw and ashwagandha also showed similar results, especially during the acute phase of the infection.
Before the introduction of painkillers, our ancestors ran to herbs to reduce painful sensations, which delivered similar results due to the presence of potent analgesic compounds in these herbs.
In a 2018 review study, scientists analyzed dozens of research papers to see the relationship between curcumin (the active ingredient found in turmeric) and pain.
At the end of the study, they concluded that “Although the mechanisms of pain mitigating effects are not very clear, there is compelling evidence proved that curcumin plays an essential role.”
Cat’s claw was also subject to some studies that found it’s effective in the treatment of acute and chronic pain (e.g., osteoarthritis).
Neutralizing of oxidative stress
Typically, the body has strict metabolic pathways that maintain the equilibrium between reactive oxygen species (ROS) and antioxidants.
The main purpose of ROS is to disintegrate the structures of bacteria and viruses. However, this property is nonspecific, which means it can also target our cells, leading to self-destruction.
Since your body is super smart, there are several contingency plants to control ROS, including the readily available antioxidants.
Unfortunately, this balance can be disrupted when the number of ROS exceeds that of antioxidants. This state is referred to as oxidative stress.
Over decades of research, scientists identified oxidative stress to be a primary culprit in a myriad of debilitating maladies, including myocardial infarction, diabetes, blood hypertension, and certain types of cancer.
Ever since then, experts have been on the look for potent antioxidants found in foods and herbs to promote the body’s natural defenses.
Out of all the available options, eastern herbs proved themselves to be the most effective naturally-occurring antioxidants.
How to get herbs from your home
Fortunately, many stores around the world started offering their collections of herbal medicines, which makes it easier for you to get these relatively rare substances from the comfort of your home.
Today, you can order a wide range of herbal medicines online or head to your local herbalist. Depending on your chief complaint (e.g., pain, inflammation, indigestion) and the condition you’re trying to address, your herbalist or online seller will give you instructions on how and when to take the supplement.
It is recommended to consult with your primary care physician before taking these substances, as they could interact with other drugs you’re taking or exacerbate a pre-existing medical condition.
Herbal medicine is the origin of most pharmaceutical drugs with a significantly lower risk of serious adverse effects.
Hopefully, this article helped you understand the main concepts of herbal medicine and how it helps the body in a variety of ways.
If you still have questions or concerns about herbal medicine, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section below.