Here are some questions asked by a physician friend of mine that may help people understand the role of herbs and health.
It was my clinical experience in the late 80s and 90s when many people were using herbal medicine as an alternative to drugs, not under a guided expert like yourself, and people are using this and making the substitution, but not really addressing the foundational causes of disease.
Now clearly, the herbs in many cases were far less expensive and certainly less toxic, virtually almost without side effects for most people; but my objection to that approach was that it really didn’t treat the cause.
And another one that I experienced is that I was taking care of many environmentally ill patients, sort of the chemical canaries who would react to many things, and it seems these sensitive people were particularly prone to developing reactions to herbs, maybe not initially but over time.
So I’m wondering if you can comment on those and kind of address some of those concerns that I had, and I think some of our listeners might have also.
HerbDoc: There are different ways to think of the role of herbs in people’s health.
From my perspective, working from that vitalistic tradition, herbs are what are called trophorestorative, so they actually do work on the deepest level. What’s very interesting now, with the explosion of science and to the field of herbal medicine, is that we’re learning that plants transfer information genetically to our genes that do nothing but add benefit to our health in a genetic level.
Anywhere from environmental toxins, and we can go and do very fancy genetic studying to see what polymorphisms or single nucleotide polymorphisms a person might have that then can give us clues into understanding why certain environmental toxins may be more difficult for them to eliminate, therefore their bodies start to react to it.
And the ways that we can repair those are through botanical medicine, nutritional medicine, and dietary medicine.
Where plants and food share similarities is that they’re pleiotropic, and I think we’re in a world where everything is so reduced and everything is so snapshot, we’re all looking for, “Oh this herb is for this part of the body.”
For example, everyone knows Serenoa repens, which is saw palmetto, and one assumes saw palmetto is for the prostate. Well, read the eclectic data on saw palmetto; they used it more for female problems than male problems.
So an herb isn’t for a male or a female, more so, saw palmetto is one of the most nutritive plants in the world. It’s for underactive reproductive organs – it could be mammary glands, it could be prostate, but it has an ability to nourish those glands, so it is a nourishing herb really.
Physician: So it has a benefit other than the one that it’s primarily used for, at least in my understanding, which is as a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor.
HerbDoc: Yeah, and that’s again, reductionistic.
That’s taking the way conventional medicine views drugs and applying that concept.
Now, here is a good way of seeing it. Pharmaceutical medicine sees the body as broken and needs to do one of two things: replace something, but most of the time, it’s blocking something. You just said, “a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor,” so it’s blocking, you know, Avodart and Proscar but more so Avodart, which works on both enzyme pathways of the 5-alpha-reductase enzyme, basically eliminates it. It blocks it.
Now, plants aren’t going to block or eliminate or replace anything unless you abuse them, unless you either manipulate them, by taking everything away from them but maybe one compound, and then using it inappropriately, like the wrong dosage.
So you can manipulate a plant to be used pharmacologically.
But if you look at it from my perspective which is providing plant medicines like you do food, like what I say is a gourmet meal – I put plants together like you would put a great gourmet healthy meal together for someone – and that’s more a traditional way.
I’m just looking to find ways to lend a helping hand to the body so that the body is as much responsible for the healing as the plants, so there is a cooperative effort. I’m not looking at the body as some broken mechanistic machine; everything relates to everything.
A big focus of my treatment plan is to lend a helping hand and save the, what I call the “essence of the person.”
The essence is a way of depicting the endocrine system, for example, and seeing the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal access as the hub, seeing the reproductive organs, seeing pineal glands, seeing regulation of insulin, seeing the way the body views information coming in as well as information being fed in.
So, I’m always looking to nourish.
Now, if that doesn’t quite get it, as I layer a protocol in, I will get more and more specific but I’m always starting with a foundation, if it’s possible. If you get someone with stage 4 disease coming to you, you can’t be that patient. You’ve got to pull everything out together. You got to layer everything in right away if you’re going to swing that person around to a state of health.
Physician: That certainly sounds like an enlightened perspective that anyone who is really interested in health and has an understanding of the basis couldn’t disagree with then.
I heartily applaud that approach.