Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Herbs and Medicine

Here is a great post about the misleading dichotomy between pharmaceuticals and medicinal herbs (incidentally it is a new blog on science and medicine which looks like it will be very good).  It is specifically referring to a web article in the New York Times about a medicine hunter in Peru named Kilham (the blog is far more informative than the NYT article).

This is an old debate that seems to be one of those things where people just can't grasp a very basic principle which would make things very clear.  Basically, botanicals (or herbs, or medicinal herbs or whatever) are themselves drugs.  They just haven't been put through the rigorous trials that pharmaceuticals have to go through.  In fact, many pharms are derived from natural products, as are many poisons.  So an herb may in fact have some sort of helpful compound within it, but there is an equal chance that it will have a harmful one.  We cannot know for sure unless it is tested in double-blind experiments.  In any case, the bottom line is that there is nothing inherently good about botanicals, nor is there anything inherently bad about pharms.  In fact, there is no difference except one has to have been proven to be effective and relatively safe.  Of course, sometimes even pharms are not as safe as we think, but that is another issue.


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