Saturday, 12 October 2019

Are Medical Herbalist 'Snake oil merchants'?

Response to Simon Harris (Minister for Health) mud slinging of snake-oil merchants. Such accusations have been slung at everyone not included in the Golden Circle of privileged providers in every system of healthcare throughout the ages.

Traditional herbal medical knowledge is based on the empirical science, an intimate knowledge based on experience of observation and use as healing agents. This knowledge covers the breadth of experimentation on soil, plants, animals and humans. It encompasses both the sustainable medicine and regenerative solutions for the planet.

In addition over the past 150 years a reasoned extrapolation from scientific data validates the effectiveness of herbal medicines.

The art and craft of medicine is embedded in a richness of culture and tradition. To believe scientific evidence to be the sole overriding arbiter defining credible (or even cost effective) healing is delusional. In this world as a magico-realistic complex the placebo effect is an embarrassment to medical science.

Custom designed drugs for the current bio-mechanical illness classification system are toxic, by design. We have become blasé and bewildered by the many deaths due to drugs. My younger sister is one such casualty, she died of liver failure after years of psychiatric medication. This is a slow and painfully aware way to fade from this life. This system of biomedicine is responsible for many such deaths in addition to saving many lives, including my own.

Scientific validation for the effectiveness of herbs has been acknowledged by renowned Skeptic lobbyist Prof. Edzard Ernst in research reviews on treatment of Premenstrual Syndrome, and evaluation of St John’s Wort for depression, Kava Kava for anxiety and Devil’s Claw for back pain.

While science validates practice, in my dual practitioner experience, the real backbone of holistic herbal medicine is traditional knowledge. I would trust this with my health and I trust the individualised Western Herbal Medicine system to address the reality that what patients have experienced of life, food, alcohol, tobacco, worry, sleep, loving, sharing and grieving affects their health. To understand what medicine they need I need time to evaluate their personal life story. After all the patient is the expert witness to their own health. Even the most technically brilliant surgeon relies on the patient’s ability to heal their wounds. Choosing the best herbal medicines to support the healing terrain (a.k.a. the psych neuro immune humoral balance) according to clinical judgment as influenced by the art and science of medicine.

Denigrating all that is not logical, fact based or rational is not reasonable or even desirable however well-intentioned. Blind faith in any dogma or institution including scientism or the current biomedical industrial medical complex lacks mature judgment. Collaborative medicine integrates the rich benefits from the science of pharmaceuticals, with the science and traditional knowledge of plant medicines. We need a truce in medical turf wars so patients can benefit from caring healers influenced by patient values and concerns. This was the original concept of Evidence Based Medicine.

Dr Dílis Clare, GP and Medical Herbalist, MBBCh, DRCOG, BSc(Herbal Medicine), Hon. Clinical Fellow NUIG Medical School.


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