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The Plant vs Pharmaceutical False Dichotomy

A recent web feature produced by the New York Times tells the story of Chris Kilham, “The Medicine Hunter.” Specifically it recounts his thoughts on the use of maca, a root native to South America, “said to have energy and libido enhancing properties,” according to the piece. The brief piece reflects the current attitudes popular in the public and promoted by mainstream media reflecting a false dichotomy between medicinal plants and pharmaceuticals. This false dichotomy is extremely counterproductive and ultimately harmful to consumers.

Kilham represents this false dichotomy when he says:

“My goal is to have more people using safe, effective, proven, healthful herbs, and fewer people using toxic, overly expensive, marginally effective, potentially lethal pharmaceutical drugs.”

There are many unwarranted assumptions in this statement. It seems to be implying that herbs are inherently more safe, less toxic, and more healthful than pharmaceuticals. It also assumes that there is a real difference between the two. Therefore Kilham seems to be saying something meaningful when he is actually just reflecting biased assumptions. This is made clear if we simply reverse his statement. Most people, for example, would agree if I said that “My goal is to have more people using safe, effective, proven, healthful pharmaceuticals, and fewer people using toxic, overly expensive, marginally effective, potentially lethal herbs.”

The most meaningful statement is also the one that is most obvious and hardly needs to be pointed out. Any rational person would rather use safe and effective treatments of any kind than toxic and marginally effective (or ineffective) treatments of any kind. Because everyone is likely to agree with this, Kilham is creating a forced choice in which any rational person would choose herbs over pharmaceuticals. But Kilham’s unstated assumptions are completely unwarranted.

First and foremost, herbs and plants that are used for medicinal purposes are drugs – they are as much drugs as any manufactured pharmaceutical. A drug is any chemical or combination of chemicals that has biological activity within the body above and beyond their purely nutritional value. Herbs have little to no nutritional value, but they do contain various chemicals, some with biological activity. Herbs are drugs. The distinction between herbs and pharmaceuticals is therefore a false dichotomy.

It is critical for effective health care and consumer protection that practitioners, educators, the industry, and regulations focus on that which is important – evidence for safety and effectiveness. Here there is a clear distinction between substances marketed under the regulations for drugs and those under the far looser regulations for herbs and supplements. Drugs typically have far greater evidence for both safety and effectiveness. Herbs, on the other hands, are typically marketed based upon tradition and anecdote with insufficient scientific evidence for safety or efficacy.

So what Kilham should be advocating is for higher and more uniform standards of scientific evidence for all pharmaceuticals, whether they are plant based or not.

Ironically, the focus of the New York Times piece and advocated by Kilham, maca, is almost completely without scientific from human trials. A recent study of maca in humans (the first, as far as I can tell) states, referring to maca:

There are however no published data on their toxicity and safety in humans.

The study, which should be considered preliminary, showed that maca may have some benefits for lipid metabolism. There are a number of studies looking at sperm count in rats showing that maca may increase sperm count, or counteract the effect of high altitude on decreasing sperm count, but this line of research is still in the early stages and has not been replicated in humans.

So Kilham, while stating that he is advocating the use of “proven” herbs, is in fact promoting the use of a plant-derived drug with almost no evidence for safety or effectiveness. This, in my opinion, is what happens when ideology trumps logic and science. Kilham clearly is a strong advocate for the use of botanicals. This appears to have become an ideology that has caused him, and many others, to take their eyes off the ball. The only thing that truly matters is evidence for safety and effectiveness – everything else is a costly and hazardous distraction.

To be fair, I think Kilham has a more nuanced and reasonable position than what was presented on the New York Times piece. In this article by Kilham, for example, he writes:

Some of the criticism aimed at the botanical industry is well founded. For as long as companies borrow science to make marketing claims for their own untested products, the market will be awash with second-rate or wholly ineffective botanicals. Very few companies engage in rigorous science to ensure that their products deliver the health benefits for which they are used. The marketing of untested, ineffective botanicals erodes consumer confidence and leaves the botanical industry wide open to heavy handed regulation.

I completely agree. I think where Kilham and I disagree is in what constitutes good science and adequate evidence for safety and effectiveness. I think he is too soft on botanicals and too harsh on the pharmaceutical industry. This appears to be driven, again, by the ideology of the false dichotomy between plants and “drugs.”

To be clear, I have nothing against plant-derived pharmaceuticals. Plants represent a vast reservoir of biologically interesting chemicals – an evolutionary science lab. I also strongly support efforts to survey the world’s plant life (and animal life, for that matter) looking for potentially useful substances. But in so doing, in order to achieve the maximal benefit for the health of the public, we need to apply adequate and uniform standards of scientific evidence for safety of all pharmacologically active substances, and we should fairly regulate the health claims made for any such products. This means purging ourselves of the sloppy thinking represented by the false dichotomies between natural and synthetic (something which has no bearing on safety or efficacy) and of herbs vs drugs.

There is also, incidentally, a false dichotomy between the pharmaceutical industry and the supplement industry. The two are increasingly merging over time, as the large companies are being drawn to the easy profits of selling supplements without having to pay for expensive clinical trials.

These are myths and fictions perpetrated, unfortunately, by those who would be the strongest advocates for plant-based medicinals – like Kilham, abetted by a mainstream media constrained by established talking points, which includes these fictions. These myths are extremely counterproductive. Once we dispense with them we can most effectively work together toward the common goal of providing the most safe and effective medicinal products to the public, based upon adequate scientific evidence.

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements, Pharmaceuticals, Science and the Media

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33 thoughts on “The Plant vs Pharmaceutical False Dichotomy

  1. Theta Scorpii says:

    I can’t believe this blog got on Fark with only two posts, one of which is content. Did you submit it yourself? You must be a Fark mod for it to have been greenlit.

    Not that I dislike your blog or anything, but please, get some content before you go promoting your work. Especially when you’re just one of hundreds of blogs and websites covering the same topic.

  2. Snorklefish says:

    I think there is something that innately draws us to romanticize Rousseau’s “savage” man and the wild earth.

    My own contribution to the battle is pointing out toxic and deadly houseplants. It awakens people, I hope, to the fact that all that is green is not gold. (Which is not to say that I ‘oppose’ plants… just the worship of naturopathic assumptions.)

  3. Theta – It was not submitted by any of us.

  4. drunkensci says:

    Great read. This is the kind of argument that I get into all the time with my family. They think that just because something is natural it is inherently healthy, and that is just not the case. Thanks for stipulating several of the facts on this topic.

    As for Fark, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be on there. To me, fark does not promote a single website or blog or newspaper. It chooses individual stories to link to. This was a well written response to a specific NYT piece, and there is probably not another story like it on the internets. Maybe I’m wrong about the nature of Fark.

    DS
    drunkensci.blogspot.com

  5. mjranum says:

    The quintessential example of one of these “folk herbal remedies” that turned out to have medical effectiveness is tobacco. Whenever some alt-medicine proponent starts in on me about the “native drugs” that “big pharma” is trying to suppress, tobacco is my favorite example.

    It was used as a native remedy for at least 3,000 years before it was popularized in Europe. It’s toxic as hell, but has apparent short-term benefits, etc. Of course, it caused a public health disaster, helped extend the practice of slavery, and created an industry that alt-medicine proponents hate almost as much as “big pharma” – namely “big tobacco.”

    Another popular folk remedy is chewing coca leaves…

    Um, ’nuff said?

  6. Rahel says:

    What really needs to be done is funding for research on plants as pharmaceuticals. Because there’s no money in something anyone can grow in their window sill, and of course, their’s always going to be a lot of demand for medicine you can provide yourself at a minimal cost. I like to use herbs, because of cost, simplicity and availability, because they are often more mild then what’d available from the drugstore (and more isn’t always better, especially if there are side-effects involved), and because I prefer to use less proccessed drugs, just like I prefer to eat less proccessed food. But finding good studies about herbs can be very difficult. There is no logical reason for herbs to be somehow anti-science based medicine, except that science based medicine is currently almost ignoring herbs.

  7. David Gorski says:

    Not that I dislike your blog or anything, but please, get some content before you go promoting your work

    As Steve said, none of us submitted it.

    As for “waiting for some content,” three of the bloggers here are well-known and well-published leaders in the fields. Based on their track record, it’s not unreasonable to expect a lot of good material. Moreover, one of the way new blogs are introduced is to let other bloggers who might be interested be aware of them and hope for plugs. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  8. drunkensci says:

    “I like to use herbs, because of cost, simplicity and availability, because they are often more mild then what’d available from the drugstore (and more isn’t always better, especially if there are side-effects involved), and because I prefer to use less proccessed drugs, just like I prefer to eat less proccessed food.”

    I doubt that I’m even the 100th most qualified person to refute any of this, but I’ll just point out that you state in your own post that finding good research on herbs is difficult. Therefore you cannot make most of these comments with any confidence. Even if we assume that there is a useful compound present in a given herb, the mildness of herbs has to be proven, you can’t just assume such a thing. And what does that even mean anyway? That the active ingredient present at a lower concentration? In that case, there is little reason to think that it will help you at all unless it has been shown to be efficacious at those concentrations. Or are you suggesting that there is something else in pharmaceuticals that is more “harsh”? There is no inherent reason to assume that something that is processed be bad for you? Food is one thing because processing often removes vitamins and nutrients, which are not placed back in. But if food was processed so that only the nutritional components are left (hypothetical I know), it would still be healthy, healthier even than the original food. Your logic is vague and unconvincing.

    DS

  9. drunkensci says:

    Incidentally, love the blog concept and linked to it from mine. It will be an extremely useful resource for those of us trying to promote logic and empiricism. Best of luck! I’m sure it will be a hit!

    DS
    drunkensci.blogspot.com

  10. Harriet Hall says:

    Some herbal remedies are effective. St. John’s wort comes to mind. My problem with buying any herbal remedy is that under DSHEA regulations they may vary wildly in content and purity. I also question why anyone would want to replace aspirin with the natural willow bark it was derived from. Unless all those “other things” in the herbs can be shown to enhance the effect of the active ingredient, we can assume that they might also be useless or harmful.

  11. PalMD says:

    “I also question why anyone would want to replace aspirin with the natural willow bark it was derived from”

    Because pharmaceutical-grade aspirin has a known amount of ASA and has been used in thousands of outcomes studies.

  12. Rob says:

    I think you read it backward, PalMD. But good point anyway!

  13. PalMD says:

    D’OH. I misread her…I must be woozy from reading so much woo lately.

  14. HCN says:

    Rahel said “What really needs to be done is funding for research on plants as pharmaceuticals. Because there’s no money in something anyone can grow in their window sill, and of course, their’s always going to be a lot of demand for medicine you can provide yourself at a minimal cost. I like to use herbs, because of cost, simplicity and availability, because they are often more mild then what’d available from the drugstore (and more isn’t always better, especially if there are side-effects involved), ..”

    Well, there has been lots of research into herbs. Many drugs are derived from herbs.

    One of the very old drugs is aspirin, which was IMPROVED from the herbal form in that it does does destroy your stomach like the original version.

    The major problem with herbs is dosage. If you have a heart condition you would be better off with a prescription of digitalis than tea made with foxglove (to much can kill you).

    Though I do agree with you in many ways. Just this evening I roasted a chicken with bay leaves, rosemary and thyme from my back yard. In my front yard there is chard, marjoram, parsley, sage and lavender, plus several fruit trees. It helps to live in a place with a mild climate, though we are finishing up a greenhouse to grow basil and Meyer’s lemons year-round.

    But many of the health benefits are from actually growing the plants, and knowing how to cook with them. I have spent hours planting, weeding and maintaining the garden. It is a relaxing and (pardon the pun) fruitful hobby. Plus I do know how to cook stuff from scratch (oh, I also baked fresh French bread this evening, plus turned the roasted chicken remains into salt-free soup stock).

    Also, a knowledge of the plants will educate the casual gardeners on the dangers of certain plants. I have learned that the trimmings from the apricot tree is not good for rodent pets to chew on (too much cyanide!), that those beautiful delphiniums are poisonous (belladonna!), that being hit with Giant Hogweed causes a rash (happened to one of my kids), and that Homeland Security would be very interested in your Castor Plant (the seeds contain the poison ricin).

  15. Could y’all check your comment spam filters – I’m registered and put up a long response to Dr Hall last night and while it appeared then, it is gone now. Thanks! – APB

  16. Joe says:

    Abel, I sure hope they can retrieve it. On the other hand, a few of us were hoping you would write about this at your own blog.

    My own thought is that ethnobotany is an attempt to screen natural products for activity in cases where no cheap, in vitro screen exists. However, this merely substitutes testimonial for laboratory data. I would like to know what the track-record of ethnobotany is. There are certainly medicinals to be found.

  17. [Never mind - my mistake. I inadvertently posted the following on the thread for the previous post.]

    Dr Hall, the reason most herbalists would give regarding the use of “whole herbs” over purified single constituents is that the multicomponent nature of the former provides pharmacological synergy. However, scientific demonstration of this principle is quite rare – in fact, when it is shown experimentally, the results end up in very high-profile journals, such as this PNAS paper from Frank Stermitz and Kim Lewis’ groups on the synergy of berberine with the NorA efflux pump inhibitor, 5′-methoxyhydnocarpin, in Berberis fremontii.

    So, I’m perfectly open to this rationale for the use of whole herbs assuming 1) the data exists and 2) active constituents achieve plasma levels and a duration of action consistent with what has been observed in vitro.

    As an aside, I enthusiastically welcome your joint effort to the sci-med blogosphere. What an outstanding group of professionals whose content I expect with be of equal value to professionals, patients, and the general public. Welcome!

  18. Pingback: Terra Sigillata
  19. independent says:

    The distinction between herbs and pharmaceuticals is therefore a false dichotomy.

    I think part of the reason people believe in this false dichotomy is because the FDA and pharmaceutical companies have been building that image through decades of legislation & marketing.

    The antidote to the dichotomy is truth: A lot of modern pharmaceuticals are just botanical extracts (or synthetic replicas) that have been thoroughly tested for effectiveness and proper dosage-levels.

    What really needs to be done is funding for research on plants as pharmaceuticals.

    In a way, unregulated herbal markets allow cost-effective first-stage research for those herbs. Sure, the evidence is anecdotal, but the test subjects are willing participants who don’t need to be paid. If there is a significant trend in users’ stated response to herbs, it makes a good candidate for more thorough research.

  20. “In a way, unregulated herbal markets allow cost-effective first-stage research for those herbs.”

    On the whole, I think this causes more harm than good. This type of open market research would identify only the most obvious effects. The vast majority of both positive and negative effects would be lost underneath the noise of biased perception, placebo effect, variability in dose and quality of agents, other variables not controlled for by users, etc. This noise is likely to generate vastly more misinformation than useful information.

    All the time the public is being subjected to health products without proper assurance of safety and effectiveness, wasting health care dollars, and are being diverted from perhaps more effective treatments.

  21. vaidya says:

    “First and foremost, herbs and plants that are used for medicinal purposes are drugs – they are as much drugs as any manufactured pharmaceutical. A drug is any chemical or combination of chemicals that has biological activity within the body above and beyond their purely nutritional value. Herbs have little to no nutritional value, but they do contain various chemicals, some with biological activity. Herbs are drugs. The distinction between herbs and pharmaceuticals is therefore a false dichotomy.”

    This is a failure of an argument, due to faulty logic and woeful ignorance. Please don’t pretend to have an informed opinion where there is none. There are many, many examples of herbs that can be used medicinally but are also used as food or food additives. For example, Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) is clearly used as a food, and yet also has both credible scientific not to mention an enormous body of empirical evidence. On PubMed I brought up 777 citations simple by searching “Zingiber officinalis OR ginger”, 57 of which were human _clinical_ trials. And yet, by your logic, you are telling me that because I like my Indian food rich with the zesty taste of ginger that I am eating a drug? Hogwash!!

    Other similar examples that come to mind include Garlic (Allium sativum), Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), Nettle (Urtica dioica), Oats (Avena sativa), Calendula (Calendula officinalis), Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica), Damiana (Turnera diffusa), Huang qi (Astragalus membranaceus), Wu wei zi (Schizandra chinensis), and Amalaki (Phyllanthus emblica). All of these herbs have research trials to back up their use and yet also have a long history as medicinal foods. In this list we could also include culinary herbs, such as basil, bay, oregano, cumin, asafoetida, cinnamon, pepper, allspice etc etc, which are also used as both medicines and foods.

    If you are unconvinced of their medicinal effects that is one thing (which again speaks to your woeful ignorance) but the fact remains that the vast majority of these herbs are listed in at least one official pharmacopeia, in countries such as Canada, Germany, India and China. The fact that they do not contribute significant amounts of calories is besides the point because there are several examples of low calories foods, such as above ground leafy green vegetables. Herbs ARE NOT drugs. Your are WRONG! Just look at how hey are regulated in places like Canada, where they are officially recognized as “natural health products”: neither food NOR drug.

    Since the rest of your argument is based on faulty logic, your other comments are irrelevant. Please do a little more research instead of spouting more reactionary half-baked “skepticism” that is really just a cloak for ignorance and false pride.

  22. vaidya,

    You make several interesting points, but I do not think they are valid.

    You are confusing “having nutritional value” with “used as food.” I never said herbs were not used as food or in food, just that when they are taken as medicinals the doses used have negligible nutrition, but do contain possible biologically active doses of drugs. (Incidentally, it is also possible to use herbs to add flavor to food while still adding negligible nutritional value.)

    Also – using as a food and taking as a drug are not mutually exclusive, as you suggest. Many people drink coffee as a beverage, but they are definitely dosing themselves with caffeine, which is unquestionably a drug.

    The real and only question is – what is causing a potential biological response? Is it calories, vitamins, minerals, and building blocks (food), or is it chemicals that have pharmacological activity (drugs)?

    I also never said that medicinal plants are not potentially useful or are without effects or benefits. I simply think they need to be properly studied and regulated.

    Your argument that herbs are food because they are regulated as foods in some countries is not valid. It is based upon the false assumption that regulations must be rational or science-based – often they are not. Scientific conclusions are not based upon existing regulations – regulations should be based upon scientific conclusions, but often are not.

    In fact, one of the points of my article is that plant-based medicinals should be regulated as drugs and not as food or even supplements. However, the question of regulation is a complex one and was not the primary focus of my article, so I did not explore all of the nuances of this topic.

  23. vaidya says:

    You clearly know little of the actual practice of herbal medicine, let alone the volumes of academic literature on the subject. The fact of the matter is that herbs transcend the narrow definitions of food or drug. A good example are the many medicinal food recipes used in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, for example, to add to the functionality of foods such as broths. For example, in China, people have for thousands of years fortified soups with the use of medicinal herbs, such as Angelica sinensis, Lycium barbatum, Astragalus membranaceus, Panax ginseng and Paeonia lactiflora. These herbs are usually added in quantities that _far_ surpass the typical recommended dosage on dietary supplements sold in the USA.

    Your argument that herbs do not add to the nutrient value was already addressed in my earlier post, which you seem to completely miss. What is a “nutrient”? Only a carb, protein or fat? Of course not, because you would be excluding vitamins, minerals and an entire host of accessory nutrients, many of which are being discovered as we speak. Even Wikipedia seems to know this differences: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutrient. Thus your “nutrient” argument is false. Herbs contains nutrients and these nutrients support human metabolism.

    To clarify, I have not said that herbs are necessarily food (although I have provided several examples already), but neither are they drugs, or at least “drugs” in the sense of being highly purified chemical extractives that have a very small therapeutic window, and hence, have a much greater capacity to cause adverse effects. If you survey the literature, you will find that the adverse effects attributed to the vast majority of herbs are comparable to foods, and nowhere close to drugs.

    Herbal constituents are not drugs until removed from their biochemical milieu, isolated and purified many, many times beyond their natural occurrence. A select few “special” herbs such as cannabis, coffee, coca and the tropane alkaloid-containing nightshades (e.g. Hyocyamus) contain chemicals that exert drug-like properties, but all of these herbs in their own way, at some point in human history, have been added to or used as foods. However, it is important to note that the vast majority of herbs do not contain constituents that exert these “drug-like” properties – you cannot rationally tarnish the entire spectrum of herbal medicines because a few at the most extreme end of the spectrum have drug-like properties. To do so is irrational.

    As such, while you lay claim to rationality, it is easy to see that your argument is NOT rational: it is based on a belief, a belief that “herbs are drugs”. While you accuse others of creating a false dichotomy, in reality, it is you who does so by refusing to see the subtlety and nuance that can only come with a greater level of sophistication than you are clearly able to bring to the subject.

    Once again, please do yourself a favor and gather a little more data and _experience_ before you feel yourself capable of pronouncing such silly judgments. If not for the herbs, at least for science itself. I worry when people like you who lack basic knowledge on the subject call for “regulation” (even when sound regulatory models exist, such as in Canada, see: http://tiny.cc/4Fys4 ). In real terms, what you (perhaps unwittingly) propose is simply an affront to individual liberty, creating a tempest in teapot where none exists, with the only people to benefit being big pharma, who we all know would love to see herbs classified as drugs if not to enhance their own revenue, at the least, to do away with the competition.

  24. vaidya,

    I wrote: “The real and only question is – what is causing a potential biological response? Is it calories, vitamins, minerals, and building blocks (food), or is it chemicals that have pharmacological activity (drugs)?”

    You responded: “Your argument that herbs do not add to the nutrient value was already addressed in my earlier post, which you seem to completely miss. What is a “nutrient”? Only a carb, protein or fat? Of course not, because you would be excluding vitamins, minerals and an entire host of accessory nutrients, many of which are being discovered as we speak. Even Wikipedia seems to know this differences: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutrient. Thus your “nutrient” argument is false. Herbs contains nutrients and these nutrients support human metabolism.”

    Apparently you did not read my comment carefully. I included as nutrients calories, which come from the macronutrients (carbs, fats, protein), which also serve as building blocks, and also vitamins and minerals. To be clear I also did not say that herbs have no nutrient value, but that generally – as they are taken – they have negligible nutrient value. St. John’s Wort, for example, as taken is not contributing significantly to nutrition, and it is not taken for its nutritional constituents but its pharmacologically active components. The same is true of gingko, saw palmetto, echinacea, etc. The most common herbal supplements are taken as drugs.

    The definition of drug vs nutrient should be based upon biological activity. You seem to be basing it on dose and preparation. A nutrient becomes a drug if you purify it? That makes no sense.

    Read the Wikipedia entry to St. John’s wort (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Johnswort) it talks about pharmacological activity, active ingredients, dosing schedule, preparations, etc. It’s a drug, or combination of drugs.

    I did not get into any detail about what I think regulation should be – which involves political ideology as well as science. My point is that regulation should be based upon accurate science. Calling a pill that contains many pharmacological agents a nutritional supplement is not sound science.

    Invoking the specter of “big pharma” is also just a diversion and appeal to fear and conspiracy. Calling for science-based regulation is not a big pharma conspiracy. Also, as I pointed out, pharmaceutical companies are happily getting into selling minimally regulated “supplements.” Why would they want to kill their latest golden goose?

  25. HCN says:

    Dr. Novella wrote “Apparently you did not read my comment carefully.”

    That seems to be what vaidya excels in. She seems to feel her opinion is above all others, even if they agree with her.

    For some strange reason she feels that herbs are not drugs (written in very large type in a comment on JREF:
    http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?p=3307206#post3307206 ….

    …yet revels when some drug was discovered from an herb:
    http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?p=3310345#post3310345

    I predict she will now proclaim that neither food nor herbs contain any chemicals! She may even tell us of the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide.

    Anyway, she blathers and blasts and considers herself quite smart, and each time she does she puts a shovel full of bovine excrement over her head.

  26. mike stanton says:

    Cracking good blog!

    Regarding the attempts of the drug companies to cash in on food supplements I was amused to read that according to Paul Coates at the Office of Dietary Supplements at NIH, “Just because a food with a certain compound in it is beneficial, it does not mean a nutraceutical [with same compound in] is” (New Scientist 05 August 2006) In other words, we still have to eat our greens.

  27. faceman says:

    Per vaidya: “However, it is important to note that the vast majority of herbs do not contain constituents that exert these “drug-like” properties – you cannot rationally tarnish the entire spectrum of herbal medicines because a few at the most extreme end of the spectrum have drug-like properties.”

    Well, of course! But that’s only because the “vast majority of herbs” do not exert a therapeutic effect at all (beyond that of a placebo, anyway)!

    There is a certain irony that if I make a claim that a substance helps treat some disorder, I’m regulated by the FDA as a drug. Yet if I claim that a substance helps treat every disorder under the sun, I’m unregulated as a “supplement.”

    Please, vaidya, stop posting…I don’t think my aching ribs can’t stand it. ;-)

  28. weatherwax says:

    Rahel said: “I like to use herbs, because of cost, simplicity and availability, because they are often more mild then what’d available from the drugstore (and more isn’t always better, especially if there are side-effects involved), and because I prefer to use less proccessed drugs, just like I prefer to eat less proccessed food.”

    Beyond what HCN pointed out, there’s another important point. “Proccessed” drugs have a have a consistant quantity of active ingredient. The amount of the active ingredients in herbs will vary from plant to plant, amoung different parts of the same plant, and even in the same parts of the plant at diffferent times. You never know how much you’re getting.

  29. HCN says:

    Unfortunately she did stop posting. On JREF she posted in big letters that “Herbs are not drugs”, and then listed a bunch of articles of herbs having pharmacological affects.

    This confused us, and we pushed to understand why if herbs were not drugs, why did she promote them like they were actually acting like drugs?

    And then she disappeared.

    Sigh. I hate it when they run away without even attempting to answer questions.

  30. xatlasm says:

    I like the blog very much so far. Thank you Dr Novella and others for creating this site. I have a question regarding an herb that my mother insisted that I use when I was getting a cold a few months ago. It’s called echinacea, and it’s an herb that is supposed to aid recovery and prevention of the common cold and the flu. I refused to take it (to my mother’s chagrin) and I would like to hear a professional opinion on its efficacy. I also listen to SGU, and I appreciate the weekly science/skepticism antics that the rogues create!

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