There's no evidence for herbal medicine

**Overheard in a hospital - "there's probably no evidence for that".


Actually, the real story is much sadder and harder for me to tell. 


I was sitting next to my dad in his chemo chair, all hooked up to IVs. He was chatting to the hospital dietitian about the medicinal herbal teas he was taking to support his liver and kidney function- both of which are commonly affected by chemo and can limit treatment.


Without missing a beat, without asking a single question about what herbs or where he got his information or ANYTHING, she just totally dismissed the whole thing: "There's probably no evidence for that".


I was silent (hard to believe, I know). 


Luckily, my dad and I had been hanging out a lot lately and he had overheard a webinar I had taken part in called "Potential positive herb-drug interactions", some of which was specifically about herbs to use during chemo. So he  responded back,  "Oh, I think you might be surprised".


I was so proud. 😭


But also I wondered-how many people, in how many hospitals and doctors offices are getting dismissed in the same way?And they might not have a herbalist daughter who makes sure that they hear about alllll the research that there is? I'm guessing that situation isn't unique. 


So today, I call bullshit. 


I call bullshit on this oft-repeated idea that "there is no evidence for herbal medicine".




I call bullshit for 2 reasons. 


1. If a tree falls in the forest etc etc.


You know that saying - If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it still make a sound (or something to that effect).


Well- if research on herbs exists and it's available online but YOU DON'T LOOK FOR IT OR READ IT- does it even exist? 


Yes. The answer is yes.


One of the jobs that I've had over the years of working with herbs has been to research them. To scour PubMed and other databases for articles on the chemistry of herbs, their mechanisms of action, and how they stand up in clinical trials.


Does every herb have lots of research on it? Of course not.There are bizilions of herbs out there and only so much time and research money (so little money! Only a verrrryyy tiny percent of $ for drug research goes to plant medicine. Partly because you can't patent plants unless you alter them so there's not much profit to be made. But that's another story).


But many do. Herbs like Thyme, Chamomile, Echinacea, and St John's Wort have literally thousands of articles written about them. In vitro and human clinical trials.


No evidence? I repeat- bullshit. 


2. Evidence for plant medicine and evidence for drug development are not (and should not be) the same.


So let's talk about carrots. We all eat carrots right? We know that carrots are a food, that they are safe and healthy to eat in reasonable amounts.




We have some research on carrots- we know they contain compounds calledcarotenoids(named after carrots - where they were first discovered) and we know that carrots/carotenoids are good for our eyes, from both research and practical use.


So question- do we refrain from eating carrots because we don't exactly know how they work?


Do we say that they shouldn't be eaten in pregnancy or while breastfeeding because we haven't studied the safety of them in these scenarios, even though pregnant and breastfeeding women have been eating them for many years? 


Do we tell people who want to improve their eyesight that while carrots may be helpful, we don't have enough evidence to definitively prove that they are- so they best be avoided?


Hell no. We say, eat the carrots! Why? Because,traditional use.




I think I've made my analogy pretty clear but just to be crystal-plant medicine has been around FOR ALL OF HUMAN EXISTENCE.


We as a species have used plants for thousands of years. We have literally co-evolved with plants. We have worked out what is safe and edible and effective, from what is poisonous and dangerous and useless.


We did this by watching what happened to people when they ate/drank this or that. You got better? Try it again next time and see if it works or if it was a fluke. You died? Maybe best to avoid that one.


I'm being sarcastic but in all seriousness we refined our use of herbs through hundreds and sometimes thousands of years of practice - whether you were a physician or a medicine woman people wouldn't come back if your stuff didn't work.


We also have lots of cool documented use of the same herb being used the same way in different part of the world- like, before the internet. So if they are using say thyme for a cough in the Middle East and also in Europe and also in North America, I bet thyme is good for a cough. You see what I mean? Traditional use.


So I just don't think we always need to run plants through 3 phases of trials plus a bunch of reviews and meta-analysis before we can say "hey this herb is good for this issue".


We have to do these things with pharmaceuticals because they are novel. We made them in a lab - they haven't been used as food/medicine for centuries and we don't know how they will work in our bodies and we don't know how safe they are/aren't. 


Should we keep researching plants anyways? Of course! Because science is interesting and humans are curious and also I don't want to be out  of a job.


But - do we need the same type of research for plant medicines as we do for pharmaceuticals before we use or recommend them? I don't think so. And I do think we need to start recognizing the incredible value of documented, ongoing traditional use of these plants from all corners of the earth. 




Right, so why such a long ranty blog? Well, because coronavirus. **


I am feeling hot under the collar about the lack of willingness by our governments to look at herbs as readily available, inexpensive, safe and potentially insanely helpful treatments; and practitioners like me as allies in this whole bloody thing. 


I would love to know your thoughts on this topic.


Are you using herbs to help keep your immune system up during this time? Do you have herbs for respiratory health on  hand or do you have a rad herbalist that you can call on if you need some?


I am currently doing IG stories on herbs for immunity which I'm saving to my highlights so if you want some info on this then check out and follow me on Insta.


How are you, just, in general? I hope you are drinking lots of tea for your nervous system (chamomile and lemonbalm folks! Err day). Please let me know your thoughts in the comments or by getting in touch.


Thank you for reading. It is really awesome to have you in my virtual community at a time when virtual is all we got. Sending you much love and research,

Em



**BIG FAT DISCLAIMER**

This isn't medical advice.

Please, please let's all do our best to follow Public Health policies - wash our hands, physical distance, self-isolate. Also, please don't take this as a sign to self-medicate with herbs. Especially if you are immune compromised, have an underlying health condition, or are on medication, I highly recommend talking to a qualified medical herbalist or naturopath, alongside your medical team.


As Brené Brown says - stay awkward, brave, and kind.

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • YouTube