Common Myths About Natural Medicine

By Dr. Catherine Ulbricht Chief Editor of Natural Standard and Journal of Dietary Supplements Senior Attending Pharmacist at Massachusetts General Hospital

Posted on | By Dr. Catherine Ulbricht | Comments ()

Consumers may also look for marks of certification by groups like the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) on product labels. These marks certify that a dietary supplement has been independently tested and verified to contain the ingredients on the label, and meets requirements for purity and good manufacturing practices. Other third party testers like NSF, Consumer Labs, and Consumer Reports for example are all listed on Natural Standard, along with specific brands studied in clinical trials. We recommend checking Natural Standard or books before purchasing products to aid in the selection process. (Natural Standard consolidates the evidence using an easy to understand A-F report card grading scale based on that of the US Preventative Services Task Force.)

Myth: Natural therapies are not supported by scientific evidence.

Scientific evidence supports many natural products for several health conditions. For example, there is strong clinical evidence that peppermint (Mentha × piperita) may improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Another example, kava (Piper methysticum) is also supported by clinical evidence for reducing anxiety; however, due to widespread concern regarding potential liver toxicity, kava has been withdrawn in several European and North American markets.

Although scientific evidence supports many natural therapies, there are still many CAM products that lack evidence despite their widespread use. More research is needed for natural therapies in general to determine safety, effectiveness and proper dosing. Manufacturers need to be held to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and encouraged to conduct clinical trials on their products.

Myth: Natural products have no place in conventional medicine.

Natural products are often regarded as “alternative” therapies that aren’t supported by science. However, it is important to note that many of the drugs that are currently available – in fact, even the most commonly used drugs – are derived from nature. In the last decade alone, more than 20 newly approved drugs were derived from natural sources, including plants and microorganisms. It has been estimated that 50% of contemporary drugs (those used in the last few decades) are either directly extracted or chemically derived from naturally occurring compounds.

Notable examples include the opiate painkillers, such as morphine and oxycodone, which are derived from the latex sap of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Opiates represent one of the best-selling classes of prescription medications. Another example is aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), which has been described as “the most popular painkiller in the world.” Aspirin is the world’s first-ever synthetic drug, and is derived from salicylic acid, which is found in willow (Salix spp.) and meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria, formerly Spirea ulmaria).

Dr. Catherine Ulbricht

Article written by Dr. Catherine Ulbricht
Chief Editor of Natural Standard and Journal of Dietary Supplements Senior Attending Pharmacist at Massachusetts General Hospital