As an herbalist and nutritionist, I support holistic healing and alternative medicine. However, I do not support quackery, pseudoscience or hoaxes created in the name of natural health care. Unfortunately, due to a combination of factors, scams and bad science often slip into alternative medicine circles, so it can be hard to differentiate between fact-based holistic healing and outright quackery.
The following guidelines can help consumers choose effective, safe alternative remedies.
Keep it Safe: Talk to your Doctor
Chances are high that your medical doctor has not studied herbal medicine, holistic nutrition, or other forms of effective alternative medicine in detail, and may not be directly qualified to make specific recommendations based on these concepts. However, this does not mean that he is “the man”, with a mission to profit on your sickness– it simply means that he has a different focus than an herbalist or nutritionist.
Ideally, a patient should make a determination to take an herbal or nutritional supplement based on a consensus between a doctor and an herbalist or nutritionist. Allopathic and naturopathic medicines do not need to be in conflict with each other– instead, they should function hand-in-hand to most effectively treat the disease or condition at hand. With both areas of expertise working together, an effective alternative remedy can be chosen. No one besides a doctor can truly make a qualified medical decision.
Avoid Quackery: Follow the Science
Some popular alternative remedies, such as Bach Rescue remedy and homeopathic remedies in general, have been subjected to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of placebo-controlled tests, none of which have resulted in a favorable conclusion regarding their efficacy. This does not mean– despite some herbalists’ conspiracy theories– that all academic institutions are rigged against alternative medicine. It simply indicates that some alternative remedies are ineffective.
The majority herbal medicines and nutritional supplements are very effective in treating illnesses, and some, like elderberry syrup, even rival or exceed the efficacy of their pharmaceutical counterparts. Just as you can’t always trust allopathic medicine, you can not necessarily trust the claims of a homeopath in a small-town health food store. The best way to avoid quackery is to do your research.
Maintain Effectiveness: Look for Guaranteed Potency
Finally, bear in mind that, since the potency of herbal medicines are not regulated by the FDA, you can not be certain of what you’re getting. A lack of FDA regulation is beneficial to legitimate alternative healing in many ways– it keeps food-based supplements and safe herbal remedies from being prohibitively expensive– but it also makes it easy for companies to sell low-quality, low-potency herbs at high prices.
For example, hypericin, the active component in the herbal antidepressant St. John’s wort, can be either extremely concentrated or almost undetectable, depending on the quality, age, and health of the plant. Some brands, such as Solaray, offer herbal supplements with guaranteed potency, regulated so that each dose provides almost exactly the same amount of the active component. The result is both safer and more effective.
Shopping for alternative remedies can be difficult, since quackery and pseudoscience occasionally pollute the fields of holistic healing and herbal medicine. Fortunately, with adequate research and educated consideration, most people are able to find safe, effective treatments for their illnesses and conditions.