herbal remedies :
THE HERBAL remedy market in Britain is booming – pounds 126 million is spent on herbal medicines and 20 per cent of the population admit to using products at least once a year.
From aloe Vera to Chinese angelica root, the notion of natural is best has been enthusiastically embraced by a public keen to live a healthy lifestyle.
But how much do we really know about the pills we are popping? And should we really be relying on over-the-counter remedies which have been subject to little or no clinical research?
KAREN HAM BRIDGE investigates.
THERE’S no doubt many people prefer to use a more natural way of healing or have become disillusioned with ineffective conventional medicines.
But whereas conventional medicine has to be tightly monitored, the herbal medicine market is not currently subject to such stringent rules.
At the moment most traditional over-the-counter herbal medicines don’t need to be licensed like conventional medicine and for most there are no specific safeguards on quality and safety.
However, a European directive means from October 2005 over-the-counter herbal products will need to prove they are a traditionally-used remedy to qualify for registration.
And while herbal medicines are safer than a lot of conventional therapy, there’s concern that people are far more willing to prescribe themselves high doses of herbal treatments – with little thought to how safe these might be.
Fiona Taylor, a medicinal herbalist who has a regular clinic at the Creative Health Centre in Regent Street, Leamington, believes people should have the choice to buy over-the-counter remedies but if they are attempting to treat serious conditions or are taking existing conventional treatments it’s wise to consult a professional.
The 48-year-old who is married with three sons and lives just north of Banbury, qualified in 1999 after four years of study and is currently halfway through a masters’ degree.
It might surprise and reassure people to know that a medicinal herbalists’ course is very similar to a medical doctor’s degree covering aspects such as anatomy, physiology and pathology.
“As far as picking up herbal medicines on the high street is concerned I think people should have the choice. Everyone has the ability to go and get a book or look on the internet and research herbs and find out relevant information. So if people want to try herbal remedies themselves they should be able to.
“But people also have to realise that herbal medicines are still medicines, just because they are derived from plants doesn’t always mean they are completely harmless.
“There are lot of plants and berries out there in nature you would not dream of touching or eating.
“People may think because something is natural that it is safe but that is not the case. So before deciding on a remedy you do need to know what it is and what it does.
“You also need to be sure you have a correct diagnosis of the condition you are suffering from.
“There are people who should be very wary about taking herbal medicines and these are people who have high or low blood pressure, thyroid problems or are pregnant.
“If you are already on an orthodox treatment then think carefully about what you are prescribed because some herbal remedies can interact and block the conventional therapy or even make its effects stronger.”
This means anyone with a pre-existing condition which requires constant care should not buy a product off-the-shelf on a whim. They could be doing themselves more harm than good and asking their GP may not be the best option as herbal interactions is an area little covered by general doctors’ study