Frequently asked questions
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM HERBAL MEDICINE?
Patients of all ages from infants to the very elderly can benefit from herbal medicine. People already taking prescription medicine may be able to reduce their dose and therefore side effects by combining with herbal medicine eg. patients on steroids often need less medication when combined with certain plants which support the body’s own steroid production. Only herbs which have no adverse interaction are prescribed by a qualified herbalist.
HOW DOES HERBAL MEDICINE WORK?
Many modern drugs are derived from plant constituents. Drugs companies have realized the plant has an effect and then isolated the main chemical constituent responsible eg. salicylic acid from the species Salix has an analgesic effect and is the main component of aspirin. However, taking aspirin can also have side effects such as gastric bleeding. Because Medical Herbalists use extracts form whole plants, many of the chemical constituents work in synergy to produce a beneficial effect on the body without the side effects eg. the harmful effects of salicylic acid are neutralized by compensating chemical constituents in the whole plant.
In addition, herbalists work holistically, so will try and find out the underlying cause of a problem. So, if a symptom is caused by eg poor eating/nutritional habits such as acid reflux, we will address all aspects of the problem and therefore give dietary advice, treat other aspects of the nervous and digestive systems as well as herbs for excess acidity. Such an approach has a knock on effect to other systems, hence improving overall health.
CAN YOU TAKE HERBS ALONGSIDE PRESCRIPTION MEDICINE FROM THE GP?
Qualified Medical Herbalists have studied herb/drug interactions and keep abreast of latest research so would not prescribe tinctures which are contra-indicated such as St John’s Wort for patients taking anti-depressants or the oral contraceptive pill. Most herbs are safe to take alongside prescription medicine, and some can enhance the effects, reducing the dose required (with GP consent) eg. acid reflux medication.
IS HERBAL MEDICINE SAFE?
Reports in the press about adverse reactions to herbs have subsequently been found to be because they are given by unqualified practitioners unaware of interactions, or who have given the wrong part of the plant or species, or have not been sourced from reputable suppliers. Western Medical Herbalists do not use Chinese herbs where plant identification, purity and sourcing can lead to mis-prescribing.
Prescribed by qualified practitioners therefore, herbs are very safe. The rare problems encountered are from poor quality, over the counter brands and occasionally reactions to high doses.
WHAT PROOF IS THERE THAT IT WORKS?
Some herbs such as St. John/s Wort have been extensively researched and there is good evidence of their efficacy (in countries such as Germany, the evidence is considered strong enough for it to be first choice for mild to moderate depression). Research however is expensive and unlikely to be funded by the drugs companies (herbs can’t be patented/branded and won’t make them much money) so for most herbs we rely on evidence from traditional use. Herbal medicine has been used for centuries and many highly skilled practitioners today rely on this traditional knowledge to good effect. Much modern research often confirms the traditional knowledge, eg the use of Black Cohosh to treat menopausal hot flushes; the native American Indians have always known this!
IS IT SAFE FOR PREGNANT WOMEN?
Herbal medicine prescribed by a qualified practitioner can be used safely by both pregnant and breastfeeding women and is effective in the management of complaints such as constipation, raised blood pressure, insomnia etc.
IS IT SAFE FOR CHILDREN AND ELDERLY PEOPLE?
Medical Herbalists are qualified to treat children and the medicine is perfectly safe when given in the correct dose. Many parents choose a more natural approach to childhood illnesses such as eczema to avoid dependence on prescription medicines, and use herbal medicine to support developing immune systems through childhood infections and immunization programmes.
For the elderly, herbal medicine is often much better tolerated and metabolized than strong prescription medicines, and can also be used to treat side effects of prescription drugs such as constipation.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO WORK?
The answer to this question is the proverbial ‘piece of string’! Many short lived conditions such as colds, occasional digestive complaints, coughs, infections can be treated quickly and the patient should expect to feel improvements within a week. For more deep seated conditions such as sinusitis, period pain, IBS, cystitis some people will experience improvements within a week and certainly by 6-8 weeks. More chronic conditions which have been present for many years will take longer, maybe 6-9 months, after all, we are working to turn around body systems. Examples of such conditions would be acne, auto immune conditions, gynaecological conditions such as fibroids, endometriosis, respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, emphysema. A general rule is that it could take as many months to treat the conditions as years the patient has had it.
HOW OFTEN DO I NEED TO VISIT?
The first consultation is very important as the practitioner will take a detailed case history (face to face contact is a legal requirement so this must be done in person not on the phone). This is to ensure we do not prescribe herbs which will react with prescription medicine or be contra-indicated for any reason to do with current or past medical history. This usually lasts for an hour and the patient will usually take away a prescription for 2-3 weeks.
A follow up appointment follows 2-3 weeks later. This usually lasts about 30 mins and is to assess the patient’s compliance in taking the medicine, any adverse reactions and any benefits seen.
Thereafter appointments are every 6 weeks or at the patient’s request. Repeat prescriptions can be made without a subsequent visit up to a period of 6 months if nothing has changed about the patient’s condition or drugs.
Once the condition is resolved, no further visits are necessary.
HOW DO PEOPLE USE A MEDICAL HERBALIST?
People should consider a herbalist like a GP. Most conditions you would take to a GP you can take to a medical herbalist and we will be able to prescribe herbs to help your condition. Some people even use a medical herbalist as a ‘first choice’ for healthcare as they do not want to use drugs, though we would always refer patients to a GP if we thought a condition needed investigation or intervention.
Herbalist in Southam