Many people choose to take herbal remedies. One of the main reasons people go with them is because they are natural. But, what pros and cons does that term ‘natural’ come with? I have read several papers arguing the pros and cons of herbs, and there are a lot of key points in a complete discussion. We can begin that discussion by examining the word synergy.
Synergy can roughly be defined as, ‘individual components working better through their cooperation and association than they would apart.’ An Herbal remedy can sometimes have hundreds of unique plant compounds in a capsule, or a properly prepared tea. Proponents for herbal remedies argue that when taken in their naturally occuring concentration and mixture, there are many benefits you gain compared to simply isolating the active ingredient. While we don’t have room for specifics here, many times there are naturally occuring buffers and catalysts that are found in the herbal mixture that turn on or off inside the body depending on our internal chemical balance. These often act to soften the intensity of the herbs reaction on our body or to enhance its effectiveness when the proper conditions are there. Many people describe this as a ‘natural intelligence’ that the herbs have to interact approapriately with our bodies.
To be fair, going ‘natural’ also has a few potential drawbacks that are important to know about too. One such is that because an herbal remedy is taken from a living plant, the health of that plant and the health of the soil it was grown in can make a drastic difference in the potency and effectiveness of the herbs you buy. Wine enthusiasts talk constantly about the climate and weather effecting the grapes used to make their wine. They know how strongly these factors effect the flavor of the final product. The same considerations affect the potency of the herbs. Its incredibly rare that you can look at a bottle of herbs and learn anything about the growing conditions that the herbs in your capsule grew under.
Herbs have been used effectively for thousands of years, but we haven’t come close to scientifically validating all the effects their ingredients and their combinations have on our bodies. The natural process is full of wisdom that we have yet to understand, but it also has much less precision and certainty. These facts turn some people towards herbs and others away.
Remember: Herbal remedies are taken from living material. When you choose to use them, you should know that you are getting all the pros and the cons of working with a ‘natural’ ingredient.
Caution: Just because an herb is a natural ingredient doesn’t mean that the entire capsule you are taking is natural. Pay attention to the fillers and other ingredients listed on the bottle.