Define herbal. By this I mean if you are interested in learning more about herbal remedies, you may wish to know how to tell if it is indeed herbal or if it is a product that is pure herbal. In order to make a clear distinction between herbal products and other forms of medicine, we need some information on the subject. Herbal science is the study of the medicinal properties of various medicinal plants and also their usage as a source of medication. There’s not much scientific data available for the safety and effectiveness of plants used in modern herbalism, and in general, that doesn’t offer definitive standards for dosage or purity. That being said, though, it’s easy to tell when a herbal remedy isn’t herbal at all.
The majority (66.8%) of respondents who used herbal medicines reported that they got the recommended dosage by using the aid of a pharmacist or herbalist. Of these, many (but not all) indicated that they used herbal medicines from health food stores and or drug stores. This supports the belief that herbal medicines should be seen as “natural” (rather than chemically manufactured) products. However, the high degree of variability in the way that respondents administered (of mice administered) herbal medicines is concerning. For example, a high percentage of respondents who misused herbs said that they got their recommended dose from an herbalist, but in fact received nothing at all!
Another significant finding from our investigations was that very few (if any) of the participants who misused herbal medicines actually thought that it might be potentially toxic or had any serious side effects associated with them. It seems that most of the participants just didn’t take any notice of the possible consequences, though they were quite aware of potential toxicities. And the few respondents who did consider the possible risks expressed no opinion about the impact on their health, either positively or negatively. These results support the view that the public enlightenment programme may be having an effect on the use and intake of herbal medicines.
However, the question remains whether misuse of herbal medicines may have any adverse effect on public health. If this were the case, then misuse of orthodox medicine would be far greater than of herbal medicines, especially since orthodox medicines are approved and monitored by regulatory bodies. So what does this mean? It means that the impact of misuse of herbal medicine would be significantly less than that of orthodox medicines, especially considering that orthodox medicine is widely recognized and widely practiced. This would suggest that misuse may actually be underplayed compared to the actual incidence of adverse effects.
Evaluation of Herbal Medicines
We also investigated the demographics of participants, particularly their level of religious adherence. Participants were asked whether they were regular churchgoers, somewhat religious or not. It turns out that the responses of both groups are highly correlated. Regular churchgoers were significantly more likely to report that they had used herbal medicine preparations at least a couple of times in their lives compared to non-churchgoers.
The next question we wanted to pose was, “If you knew that you were going to take a particular herbal medicine preparation, would you be concerned about its potential adverse effects?” Overall, the results showed that most of the participants were very aware of their potential adverse effects. However, there was one group that was notably absent from the picture: regular drug users. There is some evidence that regular drug users are at an increased risk for adverse effects and many drug users consider herbal medicine a helpful treatment option. While drug users were included in the data set, the number of drug users was low (n=1). It is unclear whether they experienced adverse effects or if they were underreporting the drug use, considering that they would not have reported this to the researcher.
Finally, the question we wanted to pose was, “If you currently use an herbal medicine preparation that has been previously prescribed by a doctor, would you be surprised if it caused you some sort of negative reaction?” Overall, the results showed that the majority of participants were not surprised if their prescribed treatment caused them some type of negative reaction. Younger respondents were more likely to be surprised by negative reactions than older respondents, but all groups were surprised by some type of adverse effect. Men who took quinine were also more likely to experience adverse effects; however, this is not clear from the data set. Other common ingredients in most commonly prescribed herbal medicines used by respondents include ginseng, echinacea, and other herbs.
Conclusions The question we wanted to answer was, “How would you interpret the responses to your survey on herbal medicine use status?” We see that most people do not feel that they are in a unique position to draw any inferences about their health based on their responses to this question. While it is true that the majority of responders did not see any adverse effects from their herbal medicine use, the results of this survey suggest that others may be seeing something different. Participants who saw a negative response (e.g., an increased negative reaction) tended to see other negative reactions in the same category (e.g., increased vigor or fatigue). Thus, while the majority of participants did not experience adverse reactions from their herbal medicine use, the data does suggest that the subtle negative experiences reported by some participants may be a meaningful sample of the experiences of many people who use herbal medications.