At a time when medicine has made some of the greatest advances in its history, something unexpected has begun to happen. Herbs, which have always been the principal form of medicine for the majority of the world's population, have once again become popular throughout the developed world. Striving to stay healthy in the face of chronic stress, pollution, and obesity, more and more people are taking charge of their health with herbs.

Herbal supplement sales were more than $250 million in the United States in 2010 according to Dr. Mark Blumenthal, president of the American Botanical Council. Multi-herb formulations are more common than single herbs and sales of multi-herbs are expected to continue to increase by 9 percent each year in the United States. Women use slightly more herbs than men (60 percent versus 56 percent), and middle-age people are the biggest users of herbs. Some of the top-selling herbs are garlic, echinacea, saw palmetto, ginkgo, soy, cranberry, ginseng, black cohosh, St. John's wort, and milk thistle.

As the use of herbs in the United States has skyrocketed, the U. S. government has become increasingly interested in assessing the safety and effectiveness of herbs. In August 2010, the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), which is part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), funded fi ve research centers to study the effectiveness and biological action of botanicals. These studies may provide data that will help develop new ways to reduce the risk of disease.

The “epidemic” of herb use is evident not only in North America and Europe, but also in China, Japan, Korea, and Latin America. Around the world, health-care practitioners are increasingly using herbs and other natural therapies alongside modern forms of treatment, with a renewed understanding of the body's own power to heal.

The healing art of herbalism grew from hundreds of millions of personal healing experiences over centuries before the advent of scientific technology. Herbal remedies that resulted in cures were recognized, remembered, and gradually categorized by the great schools of herbal healing. They were recorded by Egyptian medicine, Indian ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, and Japanese Kampo; the teachings of Hippocrates, Dioscorides, Hildegard von Bingen, and Paracelsus; and the native healing systems of Africa, Australia, and the Americas.

The ancient arts of herbal healing used plants to relieve carefully defined patterns of symptoms. The traditional herbal healer recognized changes in body and mind. Then he or she used herbs to re-create the healthful conditions of balance that existed in the person before the disease struck. Patterns of symptoms are unique to the individual, so the results of treatment could vary slightly from person to person. As long as both healer and patient stayed within the limits of the craft, the results on the patient were positive. Still, the techniques of treatment could not be applied to all people.

Making medicine available to most everyone was an outcome of the science of chemistry. Basic physiological processes are thought to be the same in all people, and the chemicals that change them can be expected to yield the same results in anyone who takes them. These chemicals then could be mass-produced. In recent years, the chemical techniques that revolutionized the pharmacy have been applied to the understanding of herbs.

The science of herbal healing uses herbs as sources of chemicals that modify known physiological processes that are altered in disease states. Since herb-derived chemicals are understood in terms of these basic physiological processes, they are also expected to yield the same results in anyone who takes them. While most herbs cannot yet be mass-produced, the potential of herbal medicine lies not in staying within limits but in going beyond them—using herbs to soften, support, and reinforce the healing effi cacy of other forms of alternative and conventional treatments.

The recent renewal of interest in herbal medicine has been made possible by the same method that once seemed destined to replace it: herbs are not only good medicine, but more and more are being recognized as scientific medicine. Herbs are now subjected to clinical testing in the same way as other medicines are, in scientifically designed double-blind tests. These clinical trials make sure that an herb's effects lie in the herb itself rather than in the wishful thinking (either positive or negative) of the researchers.

Companies also systematically test tens of thousands of plants as sources of compounds from which new drugs might be designed. The natural components of herbs can then be manufactured into medicines. In cell lines, the chemical components of some herbs are angiogenesis inhibitors, which stop the growth of blood vessels that supply tumors. Others are signal transducers, which activate genes to eliminate toxin-damaged cells, or protease inhibitors, which stop the multiplication of viruses. However, just because cell lines respond favorably to a particular herb does not necessarily mean that taking that herb will result in the same outcome. Taking herbal recommendations from a health-care provider specially trained in herbal medicine may increase the likelihood that the herb will offer the maximum benefit.

The renewed confi dence in herbal medicine has also been made possible by the efforts of well-intentioned practitioners, manufacturers, and government officials who strive to ensure that the promises made on a label of an herb product are met by the product inside the bottle.

Manufacturers of herbal products are working with groups such as the American Botanical Council, the Herb Research Foundation, and the U. S. Pharmacopeia to develop the scientific techniques needed to verify the quality of herbal products. Moreover, many American manufacturers and distributors of herbal products keep current with scientific research in China, Europe, Japan, and especially Germany, places where herbs are part of mainstream medicine.

Today, the FDA has standards of preparation of all dietary supplements, including herbs. The FDA requires that the ingredients listed on a label are to be found in the product and that it is free of harmful toxins such as pesticides. The FDA does not allow medical claims to be made for any herbal product, even if there is scientifically sound information to support its use. Rather, herbs and dietary supplements can make structure/ function claims. These claims refer to supporting a part of the body, such as ginkgo supports brain health. In contrast, drugs can carry claims about disease management, and the FDA also allows the same claims for homeopathic remedies.

Another reason the revitalization of herbal medicine has come about is that while modern drugs have achieved a great deal in disease treatment, they also have contributed to ill health. Every modern drug comes with warnings of side effects. A standard textbook for pharmacists even states, “If a drug is stated to have no side effects, then it is strongly suspected it has no central benefit.”

Medication errors cause at least one death every day and injure approximately 1. 3 million people annually in the United States. Today, tens of millions of people in the United States depend on prescription and over-thecounter (OTC) medications to sustain their health—as many as 3 billion prescriptions are written annually.

Conventional drugs are also costly. A year's supply of the latest diabetes medication can cost more than $4,000. A year's treatment with an HIV “cocktail” can cost $11,000 to $40,000. The cost of treating chronic disease overwhelms not only individuals, but also their insurance companies. Although herbs cannot replace the essential treatments for chronic disease, in some instances they can shorten a treatment course with the expensive drug, with fewer side effects and lesser expense.

Of course, herbs have side effects as well. Some have such severe side effects that they are not recommended for consumption. In such cases, we have not included these herbs in this edition of our book. In updating our research on herbs for this edition of Prescription for Herbal Healing, we relied on two important herbal texts. The first is the Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. The commission was established in 1978 to help physicians integrate herbs with conventional medicine. Later this tome was translated into En - glish, and it details how to use herbs, proper dosages, contraindications, adverse effects, drug interactions, and how the herbs work. The second book is the Physicians' Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines, which provides essential information for intelligent and informed decisionmaking on herbs and herbal remedies.

None of the drawbacks, however, requires choosing between conventional medicine and an herbal alternative. Many physicians are caring, conscientious, and superbly trained. The physician should always be considered when a problem exists.

But it is also important to receive just the right amount of treatment. Given the staggering expense of modern medicine, every person wants to make sure of maximizing the financial investment in his or her health. People desire assurance that the methods their doctors use allow the body to heal through its own abilities. Although many medical schools in the United States now offer courses in complementary medicine, making sure the best possible treatment is received is a responsibility that must be assumed with the doctor. The goal of this book is to provide a solid base of knowledge to help readers share responsibility for the process of healing by making informed—and confident—choices.

The gift that herbal medicine confers is the restoration of control to the individual. Herbs can and should be used with conventional medicine, providing just the right amount of help for the body to regain its balance after an assault by disease. Herbal medicine has an ageless ability to improve the condition of the whole person and can be wisely used to help anyone achieve a better state of health than ever experienced before.

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