Saturday, September 25, 2004

What's in these pills?

The lack of regulation and the fact you don't know how much of the "natural" chemical in SCAM treatments is one reason to keep well clear of "natural" medications.

To illustrate the point, I will compare two treatments taken for pain relief. One natural and it’s mainstream medical derivative. Willow bark contains salicylic acid. Aspirin is aceto-salicylic acid and was manufactured as an improvement on the willow bark.

When you buy an aspirin tablet, the packet tells you that there is 500mg of active ingredient. The company manufacturing the product are required to ensure that each tablet contains the dosage claimed.

Willow bark contains Salicylic Acid, but the acid does not exist uniformly throughout the tree, or from tree to tree. This creates the problem of knowing how much to take. A teaspoon or capsule of willow bark may contain 10mg or 3,000mg, even if it came from the same tree.

When you don't know how much ingredient is in each spoon, capsule or other measure of a medicine, how do you know if you are getting enough for the medicine to work? Alternatively, how do you know if you have taken too much, causing an overdose?

This is vital as too much salicylic acid can burn a hole in the stomach. You may take 2 capsules one day and get a safe low dosage and take one tablet the next and get a stomach-burning overdose. If the salicylic acid is the active ingredient relieving the pain, why consume the other non-effective parts of the plant?

The herbs that have been proven to work (and that's a small fraction of those that are claimed to work) usually end up with the active ingredient being purified and manufactured in known dosages. They may also be altered to reduce any known side effects, such as Aceto-salicylic acid, which has a much lower chance of burning a hole in the stomach than the same dose of salicylic acid.

Imagine if you were told you needed to take 500mg of X to cure a medical problem. Would you choose the one that was known to contain 500mg of X or would you take the one that was 5,000mg of something that is likely to contain X, but no one knows exactly how much.

This is the choice that you take every day with herbal remedies. The situation is ridiculous. The chemical reaction that produces the required outcome is dependent on the amount of the active ingredient. The pure, known dosage form of the medication is required to be tested and proven effective, while the unknown dosage form has to be proven dangerous before it can be taken off the market.

The underlying chemical reactions that relieve the pain from aspirin and willow bark are virtually identical. Why then, should there be different regulation of these items? With the same chemical reactions taking place, why risk the one where you don't know the dosage?

Herbal remedies need to be subject to the same regulations. They need to be proven effective before being marketed. Herbal remedies are unregulated, naturally occurring pharmaceutical drugs of unknown purity and strength, being pushed by people with no medical training or understanding of the chemical reactions they create in the body.

Regulation of herbs is needed NOW!

"There is only one truth. How we interpret that truth is called belief."

"The presence of belief, does not indicate the existence of truth."


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