A Natural Education: What You Need to Know Before Using Natural Remedies
A Natural Education: What You Need to Know Before Using Natural Remedies
“It’s all natural, so it’s safe.” Never say always! Natural treatments such as homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic treatments, and herbs have been used successfully for centuries. However, there are still a few things an educated consumer needs to know before assuming that ancient treatments can naturally harmonize with twenty first century diets and medications.
Natural Doesn’t Promise Pure
There might not be added flavors, dyes, or preservatives, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be contaminates. Heavy metals, impurities, and bacteria can be picked up during production and packaging of even the “purest” products.
An example from the early nineties is how a Japanese manufacturer’s use of genetic engineering, inappropriate storage, and reduced purification during the production of the popular sleep aid L Tryptophan resulted in bacterial contamination. Cases of a serious auto-immune disorder and deaths in the United States led to sales bans and import limits.
This isn’t just ancient modern history. HerbalGram, the journal of the American Botanical Council, is currently publishing a series on the accidental or intentional adulteration of botanicals used in a range of consumer products, including food and dietary supplements.
Natural Doesn’t Promise Ethical
Beware of statements such as “a major university study” or “a large double-blind study” that aren’t backed up by actual research. Also beware of claims of 100% safety or 100% effectiveness. There are so many factors influencing how each individual’s body will respond to a treatment that in reality true 100% success is difficult to achieve. Ethical marketers are familiar with consumer safety regulations and know how to properly describe a natural product without crossing the line.
Ethical producers and sellers of natural remedies do exist. They are eager to share their philosophy and what they do to ensure product safety and quality. Some sellers’ websites and blogs offer valid consumer education. It’s still wise to treat the information on sellers’ websites as marketing. Seek educational resources that will not profit from your purchase decisions.
Natural Doesn’t Promise Effortless
An educated consumer searches for information on product dosing, time needed for effects to be felt, signs that the dose needs to be increased or decreased, maximum amount of time a product can be used, and if the supplement has to be slowly discontinued. Whether or not this information is on the product label or their website is up to the manufacturer.
Most natural remedies are considered dietary supplements. They fall under food, not drug, safety regulations. Manufacturers have the freedom to develop their own formulas with their own potencies and combination of ingredients. Switching brands could mean a change in dose or a change in effectiveness.
Manufacturers are also free to set their own standards for quality and consistency. If possible, check the ingredient list, product strength, and serving size information every time you open a new container. The brand and label might look identical, but the formula can change without notice.
Liquid forms of natural remedies are easy to take and easy to give to children and babies, however alcohol is a common liquid base for many herbs and oils. Not all manufacturers clearly label products as alcohol-based or alcohol free. Check the ingredient list if this is a concern.
Natural doesn’t mean fast acting or limitless dosing. Dry BedTM Tablets, by Homeopathy Kids might need two weeks or more before the desired effect is reached. Regular use of valerian can lead to withdrawal if the popular herbal treatment for insomnia and anti-anxiety is suddenly stopped. Ultimately, it is the consumer’s responsibility to know how to properly use a natural supplement.
Natural Doesn’t Promise Safe
Adverse effects can happen with traditional medicine. Active components of natural treatments blend with foods and other medications in the bloodstream. Ancient and modern treatments can clash, the body can incorrectly identify even the purest substance as an enemy, and improperly functioning organs can struggle with metabolism. Side effects, allergic reactions, or interactions with other natural or Western treatments still occur.
Dietary supplements are not required to list possible side effects and interactions, even if they are well researched and quite serious. Chamomile (insomnia, anxiety) and raw honey (allergies) are both respected natural treatments. Both carry the risk of botulism if given to infants under the age of one and both can trigger allergic reactions. This information may or may not be available at the point of sale.
Professional guidance of natural treatments is strongly recommended in some cases. Diabetes, liver disease, heart disease, lung disease, pregnancy, cancer treatment, HIV treatment, and mood disorders each have their own set of concerns when it comes to natural treatments. A true holistic approach considers physical, spiritual, and emotional needs instead of isolating treatments. Supplements may not be the only answer.
Twenty first century medicine and centuries old treatments can have significant interactions. St. John’s Wort (mood elevator) can reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives and interfere with the effectiveness of anti-seizure medications. Siberian Ginseng (alertness, immune booster) can lower blood glucose levels and could lead to toxic blood levels of the cardiac medicine digoxin. Overdose and dangerous interactions can occur if herbal supplements and conventional medications that are chemically similar are taken together. Some supplements can skew lab results and make safe dosing of prescription medicines difficult.
Antibiotics, steroids, chemotherapy, and medications used to treat GERD & reflux are known to reduce the effectiveness of other Western medications. They can also reduce the effectiveness of natural supplements. Speak to a professional about timing between doses when combining traditional and complementary treatments.
Many of the natural products used to increase memory or alertness do so by thinning the blood. These products should not be used if you have a history of bleeding ulcer, clotting disorder or hemorrhagic stroke; or if you are taking a prescription or over the counter medication that increases these risks. These natural supplements might have to be stopped two weeks before and two weeks after surgery.
Online Resources: Natural Remedies
If you are looking for more info on natural treatments
- American Botanical Council
- EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database
- Medline Plus: Herbs and Supplements
- Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- University Of Maryland Medical Center Alternative Medicine Index
Anara Midgett is a Registered Nurse turned SAHM who lives in Middle Tennessee with her husband, daughter, and son. Meeting the physical needs of her medically complex daughter is second nature for Anara. The real challenge comes from refusing to let her daughter’s Down Syndrome and Autism dictate family life. Anara’s blog is able2able, and her Middle Tennessee Facebook page is able2able Nashville.
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This post originally appeared on our July/August 2012 Magazine