Every time an advertisement for a new drug arises, the list of side effects are endless. I will center my paper on the history of medicine, and compare natural medicines versus modern medicines. Is one truly better than the other? Any problem somebody might have, the doctor will have a pill to fix it. How bad are these pills? And could natural state forms of medicine be better? Medicine, and other forms of medicine, came about many centuries ago. Even before the Romans and the Greeks, each society of people had their own forms of healing.
Although these forms differ drastically from our modern medical practices, they did have benefits. Back in the time of the Romans, there was no germ theory, and they simply believed that illness occurred from not keeping a healthy body and mind. They did not make any connections between diseases and germs, but they did try to stay physically fit. A well known Roman named Celsus once said “A person should put aside some part of the day for the care of his body. He should always make sure that he gets enough exercise especially before a meal” (Medicine in Ancient Rome 7).
The Greeks and Romans shared some of the same concepts on health, and even traded slaves that were known as the doctors of the day to be used in each household. Although they did not use much in the way of medicine, their persuasion on public health was beginning to start a medical revolution. The Romans large focus on public sanitation and staying healthy would later give a boost to medical advancements once each society of people has become more advanced. Advancements in medicine and technology seem to be divided by country. For the Americas, physicians and other medical enthusiasts began finding and iscovering cures for diseases which would later turn into our modern medicine with pills and injections for almost anything. China was another big player in the medical field, and their focus seemed to be more on natural medicines. As time goes on, whether each culture had a stronger focus on natural medicines or modern medicines, both topics seemed to have blended into each society. Modern medicines are more widely used today than most herbal remedies, and this may be from the convenience, the benefits, the wide availability, or just because it is what we are used to.
Most people today if asked what herbology is, they would be clueless. People may look at the study of natural remedies as “primitive” or “ineffective”, but in reality it is the center stage for what our modern medicines have become. According to Dr. John R. Christopher, a 30 year veteran herbalist, “in 1965, over 130 million prescription drugs were written which came from plants... that over 75% of the hormones used in medicine today are derived completely from plants” (Herbs vs. Modern Medicine 3). According to dictionary. com, herbology is the study or use of the medicinal properties of plants.
Herbology predates any other forms of medicine, even before humans written history. This has been proven with the discovery of a neanderthal found in Shanidar Cave, Iraq. A neanderthal, which is just before humans in our evolutionary line, was buried approximately 60,000 years ago surrounded by great quantities of pollen of multiple plants. The astonishing part about this discovery, is 88% of the substances found in the burial are still used in modern herbal remedies (Solecki 880). Natural remedies have proven highly successful in China over time, with much credit given to the Yan Emperor, or Shennong.
He was given the name Shennong because it means “the divine farmer”. Throughout his life, he tasted hundreds of plants to discover medicinal purposes, and was very influential upon his people to encourage farming. He was credited with discovering hundreds of medicinal and poisonous plants, which were later published in The Divine Farmers Herb-Root Classic. This publication lists 365 medicines derived from minerals, plants, and animals, and is one major reason why Chinese herbology has been so successful (Historical Figures 1-3).
With such an extensive time-line using natural medicines, why has our society taken such a drastic turn to newly synthesized drugs? Synthesized drugs are the golden egg of the modern medicine of today. Modern medicine has many parts to it, but the two main parts I see important are the drugs, and the procedures. As advanced as our society is within the medical field, there is much to be hidden. With herbology, many of the discoveries of new medicinal plants and substances were literally from self experimentation, such as the work of Shennong.
With western modern medicine, it is not just that simple; they do not just use natural plants and minerals. With the help of modern technology and years of medical advancements, scientists can pinpoint certain compounds, and tweak them in the lab to get the desired effect of the drug. Much credit needs to be given to the people who develop drugs, because they do have positive outcomes for treating and curing diseases/illness. However, if you ever watch a commercial for a new drug, at the very end they read off the side effects very fast, and sometimes the negatives outweigh the positives.
Given that Americans love money and the commodities that can be acquired with money, drug companies are truly out for the profit to be made on drugs. For example, think about Ian Read. He is the new CEO of Pfizer, the worlds largest research based pharmaceutical company. He made a grand total of twenty five million dollars in 2011. Pfizer has been recognized in many countries for being green, efficient, and a great work environment for employees. They are largely recognized for the drug maraviroc, which is used to treat HIV successfully (FiercePharma 1).
Although this company is successful in making drugs, do they do it for the money or to help people? To answer this, we can take a look at Ian Read again. What does he enjoy more: helping sick people, or getting that 25 million dollar paycheck? The answer is obviously money, because he is cutting the companies budget by 1 billion, including dropping 4200 employees, and cutting severance packages (FiercePharma 2). Nothing about Ian in any description of him shows him actually helping people, because his company is so large he only has time to focus on the money.
The ethics of large drug companies in western medicine are flawed terribly. Ian Read is a good example from drug industries of modern medicine practices because he is widely known, and the company he controls is looked at as a “better” drug company. But just to show the flaws in this, take a look at David Winston; the founder of Herbalist & Alchemist. With almost 40 years of training in Cherokee, Chinese, and Western herbal traditions. He has had a clinical practice for over 30 years and is a herbal consultant to physicians throughout the USA ad Canada. President of Herbalist & Alchemist, Inc. an herbal manufacturing company, he is also founder/director of David Winston's Center for Herbal Studies, which features highly respected Two-Year Clinical Herbalist Training Program. He is an internationally known lecturer and teaches frequently at medical schools, symposia and herb conferences (Herbal Therapeutics 1). David, unlike Ian Read, is very active in his studies. He is constantly teaching others, and practicing what he teaches. A web search for David will show his accomplishments and how much he is devoted to natural medicine. However, a web search for Ian brings up everything money related to his business.
These two individuals differ greatly in the field of medicine, and expose the beliefs and goals of both sides of medicine. Differences aside, they both work towards the same goal; healing. Western medicine and herbal medicine can be looked at as brother and sister. A brother and sister share the same bloodline, as does western and herbal medicine. However, the shared “bloodline” for modern/herbal medicine would be the active chemicals and compounds in the drug/herb. Many drugs that are created in a lab are derived from a compound found in nature. For instance, compare the drug quinine of western medicine to Peruvian bark of herbology.
The drug quinine is derived from Peruvian bark, although it has been slightly modified in a lab. Both of these are used to reduce fever, specifically malarial fever. However, if you take too much quinine, you can go deaf or die. If you use too much of the Peruvian bark, there are no side effects. The tweaking of a natural substance in a lab to create a smaller more convenient drug may have the same healing properties of the natural substance, but there will be side effects (Herbs vs. Modern Medicine 7-10). When comparing two medicinal substances, whether a drug or an herb, one factor affects its use; culture.
Western culture differs greatly from that of other countries. Americans live for today, and whatever happens tomorrow happens. When the subject of medicine is brought up while comparing different societies of people, it truly shows why each society chooses their methods. The American way of life is full of commodities and luxuries not needed for survival, and it is what we have grown accustomed to. Our thought process is lineal, being that all we look forward to is progress. The care for nature and the environment is not one of our biggest priorities, because we are too busy focused on furthering our society.
Now when looking at Chinese herbalists, the Aztecs, the Cherokee, or any other people who practices natural medicine, the thought process is completely different. As opposed to the linear thought of the west, they portray more of a circular thought process. The value and importance of life is completely different within these cultures. Lifestyles differ greatly because they hold a higher respect for nature, and thoroughly care for the environment. Western thought is highly affected by our high technology society, because we live life so fast.
Naturalists on the other hand, native Indians, and many other cultures whose society isn’t as advanced have a more simplistic view on life. What an American takes for granted, others may greatly appreciate. These different thought processes affect every part of each different culture's lifestyle, even down to each different form of healing. Western culture is so fast paced and careless that even taking a simple drug for an illness can be taken for granted. When we get sick, we can go to the nearest drug store a block or two away, and get the necessary drugs. They are prepackaged, and ready for consumption.
Even for a simple headache, the average American will just take an aspirin. On the other hand, an herbalist may use the bark of a white willow, containing a natural form of aspirin (Herbs vs. Modern Medicine 11). Modern medicine in the west has become so successful because of the convenience, and it fits perfectly with our linear thought process. Indigenous people of underdeveloped countries who still currently practice herbology as their primary form of medicine hold completely different values on life; nature is highly respected, and there is more of a focus on people and nature.
Money and commodities play a lessor role, and it is almost as if life is more simplistic. Natural medicines are so successful in these cultures because with such a large focus on nature in their daily lives, herbology fits in perfectly. These two completely different cultures and ways of life can be looked at in two ways; constructive and destructive. Modern medicine is destructive in many ways, from acquiring the medicinal compounds, creation of the drug, the testing process, and the final effect the drug has on a person. From a naturalist's perspective, it is destructive ecause many natural things are altered in the process, and ethics can be questioned. The entire process of creating drugs is just that of a culture who simply does not care about anything but the product. Any new drug to come to market has to go through many obstacles before it may become available to the public, and this includes experimentation and testing of the drug. “Much of conventional medicine has always been based on a lie, or a series of lies. Babies feel no pain. Lab rats feel no pain. Monkeys are not conscious beings. Health knowledge is gained by dissecting living beings and identifying their parts.
Take your pick” (The Dark History of Modern Medicine 8). It is this testing of the new drugs on animals and living things that brings ethics into question. Although they have to follow rules set by our government, who is really watching what they do? But most people wont think twice about it, because all they care about is getting their prescription filled, instead of thinking of what has been done in the process of making their prescription. This is very destructive because animals are unwillingly subjected to these drugs, with uncertain outcomes.
It is also destructive, because the drugs produced do have side effects. Side effects can range from something as small is getting a little drowsy, to death. Little about the process of creating drugs is beneficial to nature or the environment, and although it may help a person with sickness, there are still drawbacks. Natural medicine on the other hand is constructive because it is solely based on nature. Whether somebody grows their own herbs for medicine, or finds them out in nature, nothing is hurt in the mean time.
Most of the testing of herbs and their medicinal benefits have been from people willing enough to take them personally, completely getting rid of the need for animal testing. Medicine in a natural state is also very beneficial because there is not a list of side effects, and typically can cure the same illnesses. From the facts on both of these forms of medicine, natural medicine appears to have way more benefits and positive outcomes for nature and people, however there are some drawbacks. How readily available are these natural cures?
It varies by country, and in the United states availability of all the herbs and remedies the Chinese use are not so easy to come by. Modern medicine is attained much easier, and there is a much larger supply. Master herbalists can be found as easily as it is to find a drug store, but they are more scarce. Also, credibility can be questionable of most of these herbalists because most are self employed, and there are fewer regulations concerning natural remedies. The benefit of modern medicine is convenience for the general public, because instructions are given for each drug, its uses, benefits, and side effects.
With natural remedies, you have to put a lot more trust in the doctor, because natural plants do not come with fine print on them, nor can they promise to have the same medicinal power consistently. How the herbs are grown, stored, and cared for can affect the final outcome, and sometimes to cure a certain problem using natural remedies, it takes a few tries in combination with time. Pills have grown to dominate the medical field for many reasons, for better or for worse. Unless western thought changes completely, or drug companies somehow run out of funding, modern medicine will continue to dominate over natural remedies.
Herbs are more safe for curing/healing isolated problems within the body, but modern medicine is much better for helping cure and control widespread diseases and illnesses. It would be hard to come to a conclusion on which is better, because there are so many aspects to medicine. When it comes to the benefit of the environment and the people included, natural remedies prove to be much more valuable. They do not only work hand in hand with nature, but the ethics and morals behind the study of natural medicine is more complete and has proven through history to be very successful in participating cultures.
Modern medicine offers a quick fix to an illness and coincides with western thoughts and ways of life, but dedication to natural remedies has proven to offer a lifetime of wellness while keeping people aware of the benefits of nature. So is one better than the other? Each culture would have a different viewpoint on this. Instead of picking a side, would it be possible to combine them? If you mix something destructive with something constructive you can reach equilibrium and balance. Is such a feat attainable in the world of today?