Many people prefer herbal supplements to conventional medicines, or take them to complement their meds. But don’t fall for the associated myths
Many people distrust modern medicine, and the current popularity of herbal supplements is one aspect of that attitude. And really, that’s fine: many herbs work wonderfully well. Your Humble Writer, for example, favors a nightly mug of valerian-laced chamomile tea for relaxation.
But as with everything else, popular myths have grown up around the use of herbal products. In this article, we’ve collected a few of the more common misconceptions to bust.
Myth #1: Herbal products are completely chemical free.
Everything in the world, whether natural or artificial, is made of chemicals. Water is dihydrogen oxide. Table salt is sodium chloride. Rust is iron oxide. Even something as purely natural as a maple leaf is mostly made of a complex hydrocarbon called cellulose.
Herbal products are just naturally produced combinations of chemicals. Many of those chemicals have effects on the human body. For example, willow bark contains a chemical that acts as an anti-inflammatory and painkiller. This old folk remedy eventually led doctors to a true wonder drug: aspirin.
Myth #2: Even so, I should avoid conventional medications because they’re man-made.
Most modern drugs are, in fact, synthesized artificially. However, in most cases the active ingredients originally derived from natural herbal sources, just like aspirin. Digitalis, the heart medication, is an extract of foxglove. Capsicum analgesics come from pepper plants.
Even most completely artificial pharmaceuticals work by imitating proven natural substances. This results from us using our natural human intelligence. So in a sense, you can consider such medications natural as well. Are we not part of nature?
Myth #3: All natural herbs are safe.
Certainly not; consider hemlock and deadly nightshade. And even those that are good for you can hurt you in large doses. Drink too much willow bark tea, and you’ll experience a terrible stomachache, and may damage your liver as well.
Myth #4: Echinacea is a cure for the common cold.
Actually, all the scientific evidence demonstrates that Echinacea works no better than a sugar pill. The same is true for another natural chemical often used to fight colds, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Interestingly, some compounds of the metal zinc do alleviate and shorten colds, according to recent studies.
Myth #5: Herbal products won’t interact with conventional drugs.
Some do. St. John’s Wort (a proven anti-depressive) can strengthen the effects of surgical anesthesia, as can Kava Kava. Vitamin C can have the opposite effect. Vitamin E may thin the blood and slow down clotting when taken with aspirin.
Remember: just because something is all-natural doesn’t mean it’s a miracle cure or that it’s perfectly safe. Herbal supplements are often as chemically active as any conventional medication, and may have dangerous effects if not used properly.