The entire “wellness” industry has been on its BS binge for quite some time now, although herbs have been used for many millennia to “cure” conditions, it doesn’t mean they are effective beyond a placebo. Sure, there are exceptions but when you pit a pharmaceutical drug vs one sourced from “natural ingredients”, the pharmaceutical version is more often then not far more potent.
What are Herbal Remedies?
I haven’t heard anybody give me a definition for what exactly “Herbal Remedies” actually are? I visit trade shows and it seems everybody has their own self-serving definition of what a Herbal Remedy is and why their product is better then any pharmaceutical grade medications out there. As a result, here is my unbiased definition
Herbal Remedy: product sourced from many natural ingredients whose origins are dubious, it’s effectiveness relies heavily on both the placebo effect and on generational trust (it’s been used for thousands of years, so it must work safely). Often promoted as a supplement in modern times without any double blind clinically based studies to backup incredibly exaggerated marketing claims. Herbal Remedies are sold in a variety of formats, from homemade bags to pharmaceutical looking packaging at various price points that aren’t related to effectiveness nor quality. Some are effective but the vast majority are not, relying on a shotgun approach verses a laser one by the pharmaceuticals.
Natural cures for EVERYTHING!
The “wellness industry” likes to promote the reason why their “natural cures” aren’t widely available is due to pharmaceutical companies trying to protect their turf and corrupt government agencies getting in the way of healthy alternatives. I am sure there is some elements of that but while the pharmaceuticals must spend billions proving their product works before reaching the marketplace, the wellness industry is hell bent on not spending a dime on studies that would prove (more likely disprove) their effectiveness. Instead, they rely on pharmaceutical sounding words, testimonials, slick marketing and promises that they must know are over-the-top. Among the most successful out there is Mannatech but there are many more out there as well.
The Wellness Industry Circumventing a Paradox
I believe the entire “wellness industry” is in sort of a paradox, it cannot prove their product work in a clinical setting yet they cannot gain acceptance by the medical field without proving their product works. How to circumvent this seemingly endless paradox? Well, keep telling people they work, if you say something often enough, the general populous will eventually believe it’s a fact. Open any health magazine (Muscle & Fitness, Cosmopolitan, Runners World, Flex etc… ) and you will see this effort in full force, listen to the radio and you will hear the same, watch television and commercials are pushing useless herbal remedies as well.
Times article about potential dangers of herbal remedies
Dr. Sanjay Gupta wrote an interesting piece for Time which outlines the “wellness industry” in rather stark terms, here is a summary:
- use of herbal supplements by the general public has jumped 83% in the past decade and is now worth 22.3 billion dollars a year!
- most common mistake herbal remedy users make is believing the product actually works
- 19% of herbal remedy users are trying to treat specific conditions, not general wellness and wellbeing
- 2/3 of herbal preparations have never been clinically proven for effectiveness
- 2002, the FDA put out a warning against the dangers of supplements using kava root due to its potential to cause liver damage
- 2004, FDA banned ephedra after it was linked directly to over 100 deaths
- Ayurvedic supplements (Indian and South Asian preparations) may be laced with heavy metals such as mercury and lead
- Saint-John’s-wort has an anti-depressive effect but also interferes with some HIV medications and heart drugs like warfarin and digoxin
What to do?
Well, before you spend another dime on naturally sourced supplements, be sure to visit a doctor and share your concerns. He or she knows far more about health then either of us and can lead you in the right direction. Secondly, tell your doctor each and every medication you are taking, some herbals that do work interfere with pharmaceuticals. Thirdly, if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is, save your money.
The Bottom Line
Effective herbals may have their place in overall health but should never be taken in replacement or in conjunction with pharmaceuticals unless cleared by your health practitioner.