In the United States, plant-based remedies are discouraged or outlawed. What Americans consider to be alternative medicine is actually the oldest and most universal approach to wellness in the world. Even so, at least 25 to 40 percent of all prescription medications in the U.S. are derived from plants or fungi. However, the molecules used in pharmaceuticals are synthetic copies or genetic modifications of the original deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecules.
Plant-based medicine is not new
Plants are a mainstay of health for the over 80 percent of the global population that uses plant-based remedies. Traditional Chinese medicine uses over 5,000 different plant species in its herbal medicines. A database at the University of Illinois at Chicago contains folkloric, chemical and pharmacological information on approximately 25,000 species of plants with possible medicinal uses.
[In addition to medicinal plants, medicinal animals are also a major part of both traditional medicine and modern pharmaceuticals. However, my editor would faint if I elaborate any further on that, so I’m going to stick to plants.]
Old versus new knowledge
Herbal medicine has been around much longer than chemically-based pharmaceutical medicine. A major premise underlying herbal medicine is that the human body uses what it needs and gets rid of what it does not. When known plants serve as both food and medicine, dosage may not need to be precise, as nutrients will be absorbed and the rest excreted. Newer, chemical pharmaceuticals and concentrated commercial formulations of herbal ingredients require more accurate dosages to avoid toxicity.
Americans are at risk
Even the typical American diet is high in chemicals (preservatives) and lacks herbs and spices, which contain medicinal properties and micronutrients. So Americans consume chemical and when they become sick, they take more chemicals as medication. Perhaps this may help explain why Americans are far unhealthier and dying younger than their global peers. If the health status of the U.S. is any indication of how humans fare with chemically-based food and medicine, the prognosis is not good for the food, the medicine, or the humans.
Using plants as medicine
Incorporating plants into a healthy lifestyle begins with the adoption of a healthy diet. This includes eating mainly a variety of organic fruits and vegetables (pesticide-free), avoiding processed foods, and including a variety of herbs and spices. Ingesting what the body needs is only part of the process; proper exercise and adequate sleep are also necessary for maintenance and healing. When seeking herbal medicine as a treatment for an illness or injury, always consult a qualified provider. Use caution when combining herbal and pharmaceutical medications because dangerous interactions can occur.
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About the author
Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.