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Guardian article today about herbalists

October 6 2007 at 10:55 AM
from IP address

I'm posting this in the interests of provoking debate


Any comments?

Personally I would like to see medical herbalism subject to rigorous scientific evaluation. I don't hold with the view that certain forms of therapy cannot be tested by scientific method; it is simply the choice of method that is important.


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Guardian article

October 6 2007, 11:03 AM 

The conclusion of the article is:

"But there are structural problems in the way that herbalists work: they have failed to collectivise, so they do not work together on research, but rather as independent commercial traders. They tend not to move into university settings, where the culture of critical self-appraisal might infect them. And where alternative therapists do move into universities, they wall themselves off from the most valuable influences. They don't rub shoulders with colleagues from other disciplines, who could share ideas with them. The alternative medicine courses I have approached have flatly refused to tell me the most basic things, like what they teach and how.

It's because of this culture, not funding, that the "research" on herbal remedies is inadequate. Huge numbers of "trials" are produced, at great expense, but they are inept, they are not fair tests, they have inadequate blinding and randomisation, positive results alone are cherry-picked, and worse."

guardian article

October 6 2007, 8:38 PM 

Hi Simon,
Consider me well and truly provoked!
Having been in practice as a medical herbalist for 13years,I have heard and read many "attacks" on herbal treatment.All the herbalists I know are always interested to learn more about the actions of herbs,wether it be empirical or scientific knowledge.
What annoys me so much about this article is that,surprise,surprise,he has got his facts wrong.Herbalists know that the foxglove has a cummulative effect in the body and so we DON`T use it(we leave that to the "scientific bods",but use convallaria instead.
I`m off now to have a large dose of scullcap!


Thank you to whoever it was that mentioned Kiva Rose`s blog recently---it is the perfect example of how herbal medicine works at it`s best.

Alan Lakin

Think for yourself!

October 7 2007, 6:57 AM 

Hi, Simon!

Guys such as Ben Goldacre of the Guardian and David Colquhoun of UCL seem to have mission to destroy natural medicine in all its forms. They may be well-meaning, but they do so to the extent that their judgement and intellectual honesty are often blinded.

As a scientist myself (and not a medical herbalist), I am horrified at the misinformation these guys promulgate, and this is often because of bigotry and blatantly inadequate research.

Linda is right! Herbalists do not use foxglove. In fact, they have been banned from doing so since the Medicines Act of 1968. Goldacre is already aware of this because he knows that I was instrumental in having Colquhoun’s identical misinformation changed by alerting Michael McIntyre to the very same erroneous claim in his UCL Quacks Pages. (Which I have also had removed from the UCL Servers, BTW.)

Also, Goldacre seems to think that ‘standardised herbal extracts’ are analogous to pharmaceutical drugs. They are not, they contain the same (or nearly identical) mixtures of chemicals as did the original plants from which they were prepared. The key point being that their composition is more concentrated, more uniform and more reproducible. (In fact, it is not unusual for the standardisation to be based on a compound that may not be pharmacologically active.)

Furthermore, the high-handed attitude that pharmaceuticals are pure chemical substances that have been scientifically tried and tested, whereas herbal preparations are not, cannot be justified in this context.

The research that has been done on allopathic-prescribed COMBINATIONS of drugs, is absolutely pathetic to point of being almost non-existent and is rarely (if ever) funded by pharmaceutical companies. How many people do you know who are taking only one prescribed drug? Not many? But individually-prescribed combinations are hardly ever “scientifically tested”! (And some older folk are taking as many 12 drugs! Often in individually- prescribed unique combinations that have NEVER been researched nor tested in any way!)

As for safety, check up the statistics for deaths and serious effects caused by very drugs that Goldacre and Colquohoun hold in such high esteem. It is tens of thousands! (TRUE!) Just check out http://www.scoop. co.nz/stories/ GE0610/S00037. htm, and you will see that a New Zealand coroner did a survey on the harm caused by various types of medicine, and herbal medicines poved to be unequivocally the safetest.

I could go on and on and on!

Let Barbara Griggs, have the last word!

“But herbal medicine does have one indisputable advantage in safety terms over “chemical” medicine, and that is the fact that almost all of its drugs have been in clinical use for centuries of recorded use, often administered by doctors competent enough to notice a particular pattern of side-effects showing up. . . . It seems reasonable to assume that any plant with a centuries-long reputation for being perfectly safe as well as effective has probably earned that reputation.”
[‘Green Pharmacy - A History of Herbal Medicine’ Barbara Griggs, 1981.]


Alan (Council Member)

Re: Think for yourself!

October 7 2007, 10:37 AM 

I qualified as a pharmacist in 1958 and studied herbal medicine after I retired, so I think I can accuse this journalist of bad science.

“There is little difference between herbal medicine and medicine in terms of what is used, only how it is used.”

That is bunkum for a start. Herbalists don’t use synthetic medicines such as thalidomide, phenylbutazone, statins, Valium and thousands of other synthetic compounds.

Then he goes on to waffle about digoxin. Herbalists may have used the whole plant and when I started in pharmacy that was what conventional medicine used… digitalis tablets. When digitalis tablets were withdrawn the potentially dangerous digoxin tablets were introduced. I decided to use the most expensive brand “Lanoxin” by Burrroughs Wellcome. Panic call from a specialist in hospital about what brand I had dispensed and the BW tablets that were standardised “in vitro” were more potent “in vivo” than the other generic tablets.

The pharmaceutical industry makes billions of pounds and can do double blind trials on drugs and then get a patent. You can’t patent a dandelion, which is excellent potassium sparing diuretic.

There is also the question of the ethics of clinical trials. I was asked to be in a trial for carboplatin being used either at a normal dose or a higher dose as a chemotherapeutic agent in ovarian cancer. I eventually rejected it as it meant delaying the start of the course while my details were fed into a computer in Scotland and it meant going to hospital in between each chemotherapy session, with the subsequent hanging about and taxi fairs. As it happened I became so anaemic on the ordinary dose that I collapsed and had to have a blood transfusion. My electrolyte balance went all to pot and I felt pretty weak.

Herbal medicine treats you as an individual. It doesn’t rely on a computer in another country to decide how you are getting on. We are all very different. One size doesn’t fit all.

Goldacre says “This process of inquiry, and standardisation, and testing, and verification, and dismissal of ineffective methods is one of the great developments in medical history”. You standardise the tablets, but you can’t standardise people. They come male and female, young and old, fat and thin, with allergies or not. Also most allopathic medicine is concerned with knocking out symptoms rather than curing the disease.

This might be a non-sequiter, but why was Ian Huntley, the Soham murderer, able to attempt suicide by accumulating drugs? Why does he have to be given drugs at all? Is it to make him sleep or feel tranquil? He has no right to sleep peacefully or to feel tranquil. Let him wrestle with his conscience and save the drug bill.

As for Goldacre saying that herbalists when they move into universities wall themselves off from the most valuable influences. All the herbalists I know were mature students and had plenty of knowledge of the world, much more so than most students who have just come straight from school or long holidays at their parents expense called “gap years”.


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