During my recent visit to a local pharmacy to buy some allergy medicine, I noticed a profound trend while looking at some of the over-the-counter (OTC) products. About half of all the products, on their packaging, were touting that they either contained natural ingredients or used some sort of alternative healing modality.
The use of herbs, vitamin supplements, and homeopathic medicine is growing because of the multitude of side effects associated with conventional care. For the purposes of this discussion, let us take a closer look at each of these different types of natural products and some examples of products in each category.
Herbal medicine has been around longer than any other form of treatment. Ancient man used plants for almost everything, including food, shelter, and even clothing. So, they turned to their botanical resources for treating disease as well. Man developed herbal medicines by observing animals, and then through trial and error, they would assemble random concoctions of various plants until they found the remedy that worked best.
The most popular herbal remedies include echinacea, ginger, and ginkgo biloba. Echinacea is very adept at stimulating the immune system when the patient is suffering from an acute viral or bacterial infection. It is often found in cold remedies. Ginger has been demonstrated to reduce nausea and vomiting (and is used in most hangover cures). Ginkgo biloba helps combat various diseases of the circulatory system, and has also been shown to help treat people suffering from depression and even Alzheimers. Basically, there are a lot of herbs that do help treat certain conditions, but on the whole, herbal remedies do not seem to be as effective as conventional medicines and should only be used as a supplement to conventional treatment if the patient is severely ill.
The next category of natural remedies is the vitamin supplements. Between herbs, vitamins, and homeopathic products, vitamins are probably the least effective form of treatment when dealing with acute illnesses or serious medical conditions. The most popular vitamin supplement on the market today is Airborne, which is currently the number one selling OTC natural cold remedy in the United States.
Airborne is an effervescent tablet that contains a blend of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids. Following a powerful endorsement on the Oprah Winfrey show, sales of Airborne skyrocketed. Airborne was designed to prevent the common cold. So, it is not a treatment medicine. However, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that ingesting a bunch of vitamins and minerals can prevent the onset of cold symptoms. In fact, one of the ingredients in Airborne, echinacea, which we touched upon earlier in this article, has been shown to be effective for treating an acute infection, not necessarily for preventing it. Also, Airborne contains 1000 mg of vitamin C, which most experts agree is not safe to take. Daily ingestion of this much vitamin C can lead to a wide variety of medical problems, such as kidney stones and other noxious ailments. Airborne has not undergone an independent study to confirm its effectiveness.
The last, and perhaps most important, category of natural medicine products that we will discuss is homeopathic medicines. Homeopathy is probably the best system of natural medicine, hands down. Simply put, it is a system of medicine that treats disease with tiny amounts of natural substances that mimic the symptoms of the condition being treated. For example, a homeopathic remedy for treating the common cold may contain a diluted concentration of substances that if present in high quantities, would cause you to become congested and develop a sore throat. But, because the medicine contains a highly diluted amount of the substance, it does not actually make you sick; instead, it causes your immune system to activate so that your natural defense mechanisms will kick into high gear and fight off any cold viruses you might have in your body.
Homeopathic products, when formulated properly, do not produce side effects because the ingredients are so diluted within the mixture that no effects are produced from the substances themselves. The ingredients in these brands often have an X or a C after them to indicate how many dilutions were done for each ingredient. Also, treatment with these sorts of products has been demonstrated to actually prevent recurrences of certain diseases over the long-term. Some of the best manufacturers in this category include Boiron, a French manufacturer with annual revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and Liddell, a small American company whose products are sold primarily in health food stores.
So, next time you stop by the pharmacy, take a closer look at the ingredients for the various natural medicines on the shelf. You should try to stay away from vitamin supplements. You might want to try some herbal remedies depending upon your condition, but the homeopathic products are probably the best way to go. Also, you should consult your physician or a pharmacist before buying any medicine that you have never tried before, even if it is sold over-the-counter.