Have you ever taken a pharmacy medicine and experienced side effects?

Have you ever been prescribed further pharmacy medicines to alleviate your side effects?

This can be a troublesome slope to travel down. Let me give a common example. Aspirin is prescribed long term at low dose to reduce the risk of stroke. It is effective for this. However, aspirin is also known to increase the risk of a stomach ulcer forming. Especially when used long term. So, do doctors look for alternatives with fewer side effects? Not usually. Most often patients are given an additional prescription for an antacid to neutralise their stomach acid. It sounds reasonable. Until you learn that stomach acid is essential for proper absorption of nutrients.

So now we have a body that is highly likely to be deficient in certain key nutrients to begin with, now receiving even less nourishment from the food we are eating. And a liver that is busy processing medicines instead of foods. This sounds like the beginning of a nasty cycle to me, where nutritional lack is perpetuated, the body becomes more and more stressed, and less able to function correctly. I get upset when I see people in these sorts of situations, when the underlying cause of their illness has been overlooked and they have not been told clearly what the risks and complications of their treatment could be. And there are too many examples of this.

Side effects happen with natural medicines too, of course, but generally less often and with less severity. Most natural medicines work by nourishing the body, in a similar way to food. In fact, the best medicines are foods! Those remedies that are more pharmacologically active, such as potent herbal extracts, are usually made from the whole plant. Using the plant as it occurs in nature allows all of the elements in the extract to work together, complementing each other. In naturopathic terms this quality is called synergy. Synergistic remedies are likely to be safer and cause less side effects than isolated compounds. Our bodies recognise and know how to process whole plants, as we have evolved with them for millenia. As an example, Chickweed herb, which contains iron, also contains vitamin C, which is needed for the iron to be utilised. If we took our Chickweed and extracted only the iron from it, we might find that it is not as effective. We also might find that the non-absorbable form of iron sits in our gut and gives us digestive symptoms.

Today’s wisdom in a nutshell: Always talk to your doctor about potential side effects of medicines, don't be afraid to ask questions. Attempt natural cures for your ailments before reaching for the pharmacy; you might find that your overall health improves, as well as symptom reduction. Consider the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Be sensible and ask for professional help when you need it, especially if you fear serious illness. I hope you are all keeping warm as the New Zealand winter approaches!

Green Blessings,

Aurora August NZ Registered Medical Herbalist