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Practical Guide To Natural Medicines

Practical Guide To Natural Medicines

by Andrea Peirce

Echinacea, ephedra, evening primrose oil...garlic, ginger, ginseng...St. John's wort, selenium, shark cartilage — these are just a few of the natural medicines that millions of people are using. But do they work? Medical authorities often argue against them; alternative medicine advocates tout them. What's a consumer to do, while waiting for modern science to


Echinacea, ephedra, evening primrose oil...garlic, ginger, ginseng...St. John's wort, selenium, shark cartilage — these are just a few of the natural medicines that millions of people are using. But do they work? Medical authorities often argue against them; alternative medicine advocates tout them. What's a consumer to do, while waiting for modern science to catch up with often ancient practices?

Help is here, with The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. This unique book from a trusted name in medicine rates the effectiveness and safety of more than three hundred natural substances, based on a careful assessment of the scientific research available. The alphabetically arranged listings include every substance readers are likely to want to know about — and some they may not be familiar with, but should be.

At a glance readers will learn the source of the substance, the forms in which it is commonly available, the claims made for it, and what scientific studies do (or don't) show about those claims. Known side effects and dangers are noted as well. A basic 1-to-5 rating scale ranks each substance. The highest rating is given to those substances with a great degree of safety and effectiveness based on "years of use and extensive, high-quality studies."

Readers also learn how natural medicines are regulated and tested here and abroad, and do's and don'ts when selecting natural medicines. Special indexes organize the medicines according to those commonly used for various symptoms.

Comprehensive and authoritative, featuring an introduction by best-selling medical authority Andrew T. Weil, M.D., The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. is the reference to trust for anyone interested in natural medicines — from the skeptic to the curious to the dedicated — and promises to be the touchstone for consumers for years to come.

Editorial Reviews

Introduced by Andrew Weil, M.D. of fame, this weighty guide is billed as "the first authoritative home reference for herbs and natural remedies, from the nation's largest and most respected organization of pharmacists." Letter tabs guide one to some 300 natural substances (including devil's dung) rated for their effectiveness and safety; their regulation and testing globally are explained. Page numbers are oddly missing from the "index" by symptom and remedy. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
American Pharmaceutical Association Guide Series
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
8.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.94(d)

Read an Excerpt

Definitions, Standards, And Other Fundamentals

What You Get in a Natural Medicine

Is It An Herb? A Food? A Drug?

Our earliest ancestors probably made little distinction between the foods they ate to sustain themselves and the healing properties these foods provided. A bowl of flaxseed gruel not only nourished them, it helped them soothe a sore throat and form a healthy stool. Caraway seeds enhanced the flavor of meats and breads, but also eased their digestion. Through observation of people and animals, test and trial, a pharmacopeia was developed and handed down through the ages.

Though many of us live amid concrete and steel, some of these foods, like flaxseed and caraway, still constitute part of our diet. When we use them specifically to prevent or treat an ailment -- when we take them in therapeutic doses as our forebears sometimes did -- they effectively become drugs. Today we refer to drugs of this type as natural medicines or remedies, largely because the medical establishment has not yet accepted them as proven agents that merit being patented, stamped into tablets, subjected to quality-control standards, and sold as regulated substances. Nevertheless, they can in many cases act upon our bodies, to heal or harm, in much the same ways that conventional drugs do.

Natural does not, however, necessarily mean safe. Consider some of the most poisonous substances known to humankind: strychnine, ricin, aconite; all are found in plants. Humans have survived by recognizing and respecting that the environment offers harmful as well as healing substances.

Despite appearances, conventional Western medicine has never strayed far from natural remedies. Many of the substances in this book were actually pharmaceutical standards of another era, materials which a traveler back in time would find crammed into the frayed leather bag of every family doctor from Philadelphia to rural Oklahoma to frontier towns of the Pacific. Arnica, sarsaparilla, and senna were included in such official publications as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP; the official listing of U.S. drugs) and the National Formulary (the pharmacist's handbook), which had legal standards for identifying and assuring the quality of the substances. Even today, approximately 25 percent of prescription drugs in the United States are derived from natural sources. Consider the contribution of foxglove to treating heart disease digitalis), or willow bark to alleviatin pain (aspirin), or the Pacific yew to cancer (taxol).

As the twenty-first century is upon us, as much as 80 percent of the world's population still relies on herbal medicines. Although most of this book is devoted to herbs, you will also find information on other natural substances popularly used in healing, such as foods (nuts, seeds, fruits), minerals, microorganisms, and amino acids. We consider them all natural remedies. Nearly all are sold in America as dietary supplements rather than as drugs.

Herbal Medicine And Homeopathy: Critical Distinctions

Do not confuse herbal medicine with homeopathy, a common mistake that even professionals make. The practice of homeopathy was imported from Europe in the early 1800s and taught in a number of medical colleges. After decades of popularity -- in 1900 as many as one out of every six health-care practitioners was a homeopath -- it slipped into obscurity until the 1970s, when a virtual renaissance occurred.

Homeopathy relies on herbs, but it uses them in a completely different way than herbalism does. The practice of homeopathy is founded on the Law of Similars, or "like heals like. " According to this theory, a disease is treated with a substance that produces the same symptoms as those of the disease itself. Thus, a cough, for example, should be treated with a substance believed to cause or promote the cough, not suppress it. Homeopaths believe that this "stimulates the body to recover itself."

In addition, homeopathy rejects the conventional proposition that a larger quantity of active substance is likely to produce a greater response. Instead, it ascribes to the Law of Infinitesimals, which holds that the lower the dose of the active substance, the greater its effectiveness. Homeopathic medicines are made by placing an herb or other active substance in a diluting agent such as water, milk sugar, or alcohol, and then diluting it further, usually six to thirty times, to a point where very little (if any) of the original material remains. Believers say some "memory" of the drug lingers.

Homeopathy has attracted its share of critics. Many ascribe apparent benefits to the role of the placebo effect: in up to a third of cases, people will experience the desired therapeutic effect if they think they are being treated. No reliable scientific or clinical evidence can be found to confirm the validity of homeopathy.

Regulations and Standards: Staying in Tune with the Times

How The United States Regulates Herbal Medicines

In response to rampant fraud and outrageous claims among drug and food producers in the early part of the twentieth century -- not to mention a few public health disasters -- the government started to tighten its regulation of herbal medicines. As of 1962, all substances marketed as drugs had to be proven effective and safe in the classic randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Few herbs met these standards. (The only exceptions were for substances marketed before 1938, which were grandfathered.) From the early 1960s until 1994, many classic herbs lingered in a netherworld between foods and drugs, with the FDA forbidding marketers from listing any medical benefits.

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 shifted the rules once again, leaving Americans with a curiously ironic mix of choices. The nation's prescription and nonprescription drug supply certainly qualifies as one of the safest and most carefully regulated in the world, but the same is not true of natural remedies sold as dietary supplements. In fact, American consumers have less assurance of safety and efficacy when they take one of these formulations than many other consumers around the globe have.

The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. Copyright © by Andrea Peirce. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Andrea Peirce is the author of The American Pharmaceutical Association Parent's Guide to Childhood Medications and has extensive credits in medical writing and reporting. A graduate of Stanford Univeristy, she and her husband, a physician, live in New York City.

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