Herbal medicine uses plants and plant extracts to treat disease and enhance general health and wellbeing. Conventional medicine treats symptoms and diseases using pharmaceutical drugs.
Many modern drugs were initially extracted from the plants, even if they're now made synthetically. For example, in 1897, scientists at Bayer created a synthetic version of the key component of Meadowsweet - salicin - and named the product aspirin. Where 'A' stands for acetyl, "spir" is derived from the plant known as Spiraea ulmaria (Meadowsweet), which yields salicin, and "in" was a common suffix used for drugs at the time of the first stable synthesis of acetylsalicylic acid. However, unlike synthetic aspirin, Meadowsweet tea and tinctures don't irritate the stomach but actually help the lining heal. For centuries herbalists used Meadowsweet to treat a wide variety of conditions. This plant is well respected for its ability to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold or flu. It also has a mild anti-inflammatory effect and a pain-relieving effect.
Most pharmaceutical medications are based on a single active ingredient derived from a plant source (just like in the example with Meadowsweet and aspirin). Whereas conventional medicine uses only one plant's active ingredient, herbal remedies use the whole plant. Herbalists claim that the mixture of chemicals across the entire plant work together to give a better effect. However, critics argue that the nature of herbal medicine makes it difficult to offer a measured dose of an active ingredient. Some herbs have very potent active ingredients and should be taken with the same caution as pharmaceutical medications.
In herbal medicine, it is common to use several different herbs together. Herbalists explain that combining herbs improves efficacy and reduces adverse effects of the medicine. The combining herbs approach contrasts with conventional practice, in which polypharmacy is generally avoided whenever possible.
Even when herbal medicine has been shown to cure some diseases, for the most part, it is not scientifically backed up. That's why herbal medicine is often considered less effective than its counterpart. Herbal medicine is the aggregate of knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to diverse cultures. In fact, some herbal and nutritional supplements have already received extensive and positive clinical evaluations. However, as effective as conventional medicine can get, there are some aspects that conventional medicine ignores; here's when the herbal medicine steps in to fill in the blank. As per World Health Organization (WHO), Traditional and Complementary Medicine (T&CM) can be effectively supplemental to modern medicine. There is no strong determination of whichever medicine is better because each has its advantages and disadvantages. However, it's clear that both approaches can work synergetically and complement each other if used properly. Studies show that individuals who seek out and use alternative medical treatments, including herbal medicine, tend to be the better educated and the more affluent. Thus the stereotype of the alternative medicine consumer as an uneducated, poor person succumbing to the sideshow lures of quacks and charlatans appears to be vastly overblown.
In the United States, under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, any herb, botanical, and natural concentrate, metabolite, and constituent of extract, is classified as a dietary supplement and are presumed safe. Nutritional supplements do not need approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before entering the market. Therefore, these manufacturers and their products are not subject to the same rigor and qualifications as more conventional drugs. That means that the herbal medicine manufacturer is responsible for determining that the dietary supplements manufactured or distributed are indeed safe and that any representations or claims made about them are sustained by adequate evidence to show that they are not false or misleading. We all are very familiar with the "The Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated these statements. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease" disclaimer on the labels of most dietary supplements.
The FDA does not have the authority to require herbal medicines to be approved for safety and efficacy. However, all domestic and foreign companies that manufacture package labels or hold dietary supplements must follow the FDA's current Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) regulations, outlining procedures for ensuring the quality of supplements intended for sale.
There is a common belief that herbal medicine is not harmful simply because it is natural and has been used for thousands of years. However, as with adding any new prescription to your regimen, it is impossible to foresee the consequences unless you are a qualified medical professional. The term "mixing medications" refers to any combination of drugs or remedies simultaneously. Herbal medicines and supplements may interact in harmful ways with the over-the-counter or prescription drugs you are taking. For example, St. John's Wort is a well-known herb that is often used to alleviate depression. However, if you are already taking prescription antidepressants, the St. John's Wort could cancel out its impact and lead to potential harm or a more severe diagnosis. The simple truth is that you can never know for sure how your unique body and chemical makeup will react with any dietary supplement, especially in combination with prescription pharmaceutical drugs. Therefore, it is always good to talk to your doctor about possible side effects and interactions. And, please, never stop taking prescribed medications without consulting your doctor.