Herbal medicine vs modern medicine : where the problem lies


by Akinlabi bisola

Herbal medicine is one of the aspects of traditional medicine though the words are sometimes used interchangeably, it is regarded as the oldest form of treatment known to man and has been used by various cultures through out the world .

Herbal medicine also called botanical medicine is defined by WHO has a naturally occurring, plant derived substance with minimal or no industrial processing that have been used to treat illness within local or regional healing practices. Herbal medicine is termed primitive by orthodox medicine but through scientific investigation there is a better understanding of its therapeutic properties such that many pharmaceuticals are derived from it, some of the major problems herbal medicines have as compared to modern medicine are:

Unlike orthodox medicine where drug dosage is always stated, herbal medicine dosage is still a difficult concept to grasp with some people recommending drops others tablespoon some cups forgetting their are different sizes of cups, it can get really confusing and could even lead to drug overdose.

A 2013 study shows that one-third of herbal supplements sampled contained no trace of herbal listed on the label. The study found products adulterated with contaminants or fillers not listed on the label, including potential allergies such as soy, wheat, black wallnut. Most herbal medicines in Nigeria do not have label and most consumers don’t even ask for the constituents of what they are being asked to consume and for those that have labels they don’t list all the content of the drug it’s like they are hiding some probably so their competitors will not find out and outsmart them.

The WHO published quality control methods for medicinal plant materials in 1998 in order to support WHO member states in establishing quality standards and specifications for herbal materials, within the overall context of quality assurance and control of herbal medicines the purity of most herbal medicines can’t still be ascertained as only very few of them in Nigeria are considered safe by NAFDAC with the majority whose hygiene during the preparation process is close to zero. There have been several reports on the quality of the products used in preparing some of these herbal medicines, some have reported seeing Margot and other insects in them but these still do not stop people from using it .

Due to inadequate data about toxic herbs, toxic target organs, safe dose range and safety windows of effective dose, herbal medicine are said to be completely free from side effects unlike modern medicine with side effects listed in each drug labels ,this is an exaggerated propaganda as all effective drug as side effects especially when overdosed and herbal medicine is no exception. Some people even combine both herbal and modern medicine which is a very dangerous practice as there could be interaction between the constituents of both drugs which could lead to adverse reaction and sometimes life threatening situation.

Just as there are counterfeit products of modern medicine it’s also the same of herbal medicines but since there are no regulatory bodies or standards they can’t be easily identified until it is consumed which could harm unsuspecting members of the public that patronize herbal medicine sellers.

The recognition of disease in traditional Africa meant that every society needed to devise means of curtailing her problem. Worldwide, different society have different herbal traditions that have evolved over a long period of time unlike orthodox that is almost the same worlwide. Finished herbal products are presented in various forms such as decoction, powder, alcoholic beverages, capsules, tablet, ointments and creams.
The use of herbal medicine as alternative and complementary medicine is increasing worldwide which as led to the increase in its demand hence there is need to look into the above listed problem and how it can be solved and create a regulatory body for herbal medicine so as to ensure the safety of the public. Herbal medicine could be integrated into the scientific world by carrying out researches on the herbs which will help find out the appropriate dosage and possible side effects if overdosed. Herbal medicine constituents shouldn’t be a secret as consumers have the right to know what they are taking

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