Not all illnesses require a trip to the doctor and can be treated using herbal medicine. In fact, these long-standing ancient cures shouldn’t be mocked and can have real benefits for many simple illnesses.
The question is, how do you know when to rely on ancient medicinal techniques for your ailment, and when should you seek professional medical care? After all, you don’t want to fall victim to delays in diagnosis for medical conditions that could have been healed long ago.
In this post, we’re going to discuss whether herbal medicine can actually treat illness, and what kinds of illnesses it can treat. Then, we’ll dive into when to see the doctor, and whether you should take herbal medicine without seeking advice first. Take a look…
Can Herbal Medicines Actually Treat Illnesses?
The importance of herbal medicine has been known by many ancient cultures. The cultures used plants to treat disease and enhance their general health and wellbeing.
Many modern pharmaceutical medications are man-made versions of naturally occurring compounds found in plants. One example is the heart medication digitalis, which is synthesized from natural compounds found in the foxglove plant.
In some instances, pharmaceutical drugs can be less safe than herbal medicine, because the plant’s active ingredient has been isolated and used on its own.
An example of this is salicylic acid which is synthesized from the meadowsweet plant to make aspirin. Aspirin can cause the lining of the stomach to bleed because it doesn’t contain the other compounds found in meadowsweet which prevent irritation.
Most herbal medicine practitioners will tell you that the effect of the whole plant is a better, more rounded approach than synthesizing pharmaceutical drugs from them. Critics say that it’s difficult to give a measured dose of an active ingredient with herbal medicine.
Basically, herbal medicines can work as well as, or better than, pharmaceutical drugs in treating certain conditions, but it’s difficult to give accurate doses.
What Illnesses Can Herbal Medicine Treat and When Should You See the Doctor?
Now that we have an idea of how herbal medicines work, it’s time to look at some common conditions that they can be used to treat. For each of these conditions, we’ll also tell you when herbal medicine won’t cut it and you have to see the doctor.
One of the best herbal medicines for treating depression is St Johns Wort (SJW). SJW is derived from the flowering plant Hypericum perforatum, and its small yellow flowers are used in teas, capsules, or extracts.
Historically, SJW was used to aid wound healing and ease insomnia, depression, kidney and lung diseases. These days its only use is as an anti-depressant with studies showing short-term effectiveness.
There’s limited data on its long-term effectiveness, so if your depression starts to come back after a period of calm on SJW, it’s time to see your doctor. One more thing to note is that St John’s Wort can interfere with other medications such as birth control and blood thinners.
Flu & Common Cold
There are many herbal medicines used to treat the common cold and the flu, such as garlic and echinacea. One of the more scientifically recognized treatments is elderberry.
Elderberry is an ancient herbal medicine made from the cooked fruit of the Sambucus nigra plant. Historically it was used to relieve nerve pain, toothaches, headaches, colds, constipation, and viral infections. In the modern world, elderberry is used to treat the flu and common cold, with test-tube studies showing its antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties.
If your cold symptoms persist for more than three weeks, your chest hurts, or you are short of breath, it’s time to call your doctor. This way, you can avoid a delayed diagnosis of a potentially more dangerous condition.
Chronic Inflammation and Arthritis
If you have chronic inflammation or arthritis, turmeric could be the herbal medicine for you. This herb belongs to the ginger family and has been used for thousands of years both in food and in medicine due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Curcumin, the primary active ingredient in turmeric, can treat a whole host of conditions including chronic inflammation, metabolic syndrome, and arthritis. Multiple studies have proven that supplemental doses of curcumin are as effective as many anti-inflammatory medications.
The amount you eat in food isn’t likely to have a significant medicinal effect, so supplements are your best bet. If these supplements don’t help with your chronic inflammation or arthritis, and you develop pain, swelling, or stiffness in your joints, you should seek medical attention.
Insomnia and Anxiety
Valerian is a herbal medicine dating back to ancient Greece and Rome, where it was believed to relieve tremors, headaches, heart palpitations, and restlessness.
In modern medicine, its role is mainly in treating insomnia and anxiety. Scientific studies aren’t as strong for this remedy, but there are many subjective reports from people who say it worked for them.
If your insomnia or anxiety symptoms last for more than four weeks or are significantly interfering with your life after taking valerian, you should see your doctor. This way, you can avoid a delayed diagnosis which could be harmful to your overall health.
Can You Start Taking Herbal Medicines Without Seeking Advice First?
Before we end this post, we’re going to look at whether you should take herbal medicine without seeking medical advice first.
In many instances, it’s best to speak to a health professional first so you can:
- Ensure you’re taking the proper dosage;
- Understand the potential side effects;
- and make sure they won’t interfere with any other medication you’re taking.
For instance, elderberries can be toxic if they’re in their raw form, St John’s Wort can interact dangerously with pharmaceutical anti-depressants, blood thinners, and the pill, and valerian root can compound the results of sedatives.
There are also lots of herbal medicines that haven’t been studied rigorously enough to know whether they’re safe for pregnant women or not. So, you should definitely see your doctor before taking any herbal medications whilst pregnant.
Are Herbal Medications Right for You?
Throughout this post, we’ve managed to give you an overview of what herbal medicine is and how it can be used to treat common conditions. We’ve then talked about when to see the doctor if these medicines aren’t working, and whether you should take them without advice.
Herbal medicine was the medicine of our species until we developed ways to extract the active ingredients we needed. In many instances, the herbal medicine works better, and in others, the synthesized drug should be used.
The only way to know for sure is to try out some herbal medicine for a condition you’re struggling with and see if it treats the symptoms. That said, be sure to seek proper medical advice before doing so. Good luck on your quest to cure your conditions!