In contrast to conventional therapy, which uses drugs to suppress the immune system, the goal of most herbalist, I believe, is to cleanse the blood of toxins and neutralize acidity thus, allowing the body to heal itself. However, in order for one to be successful using herbs, a lot of patience must be employed. We live in a country that expects immediate results and often gets them, and while this tends to be the result of conventional drugs, it should be noted that the immediate response is usually a short-lived, superficial one that is often accompanied by multiple side effects. Regarding cancer, keep in mind that in order for cancerous cells to appear on a lab test for diagnosis, these cells must have existed long enough to multiply to number in the thousands. This usually takes several years. Doesn’t it make sense then, that to detoxify the body and restore balance to the immune system so the body is able to heal itself, it should not be expected to occur overnight?
The History of Herbal Medicine
For hundreds of years, mankind has been using plants to treat various ailments. In fact, up until the 1800’s, whole plants, including their leaves, roots, and flowers, were ground up to make various preparations including teas, tinctures, and other extracts. Unfortunately, herbalism at this time was a very inexact science; doses were not standardized and there was no real way of knowing what herbs in what amounts were present in a remedy. It was at this time that a German pharmacist isolated morphine from opium, obtaining for the first time a pure, active substance from a plant. This set the stage for the development of scientific medicine. No longer were whole plants used, but instead what was considered to be their most valuable component. Researchers using this approach isolated the most valuable element of a plant and basically discarded what remained, considering it useless. Many people disagree with this approach, including Harvard trained physician, Dr. Andrew Weil who believes “our problems stem directly from the decision of scientific medicine to value the refined white powder over the green plant.” Another advocate of whole plant integrity is Francis Brinker, a naturopathic physician and scholar of botanical medicine. “Trying to develop drugs from plants by reducing crude extracts into their component parts in order to obtain an active isolated constituent never duplicates the effect of the whole plant.”
Nonetheless, this act accomplished two things. First, refined white powdered medicines were marketed to the public instead of crude whole plants. Simultaneously, this put into practice the illegal distribution of secret nostrums, a practice forbidden by Hippocrates, the father of medicine, whose oath all new physicians are required to take. A secret nostrum is defined as “a medicine, the ingredients of which are kept secret for the purpose of restricting profits of sale to the inventor or proprietor; a quack medicine.” Ironically, The American Medical Association’s Original Code of Ethics, established in May, 1947, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, states that “Physicians ought to use all the influence which they may possess … to discourage druggists and apothecaries from vending quack or secret medicines, or from being in any way engaged in their manufacture and sale.” Therefore, by inventing patents for medicines, the pharmaceutical industry and the medical establishment are breaking the very law they are sworn to uphold. In order to get around this problem they produced “proprietaries,” a marketing strategy in which ingredients are disclosed, often to the editors of medical journals but not to the general public using the product. Thus, their secrecy remains intact.
Ask any physician in the country what ingredients are found in Tylenol, and they’ll have no answer. The same is true of Lasix, Valium, and any other drug you can name. Most industrialized countries have developed medicines that were originally derived from plants. The poppy plant is used to produce Morphine. Extracts of Digitalis purpurea (common name Foxglove), commercially known as Digitalis or Digoxin, are used to treat heart conditions. Feverfew, a member of the Chrysanthemum family, is recognized for the treatment of migraine headaches, fever reduction, and to relieve arthritis.
Unfortunately, a lack of respect for the integrity of the whole plant and a desire for greed has fueled an entire medical industry. The result is that secret, refined, white powdered nostrums can be patented but herbs cannot. This is the reason why the government is dragging its heels when it comes to researching herbal and other alternative therapies. There’s no profit in herbs and unfortunately, cancer is a multibillion dollar industry, and the government, the pharmaceutical industry, and insurance companies like to keep their pockets green.
In a morbid way, cancer is a win-win situation for medical politics. On the one hand, modern research has shown that many standard pharmaceutical drugs cause cancer. “It would appear,” wrote Dr. Samuel Epstein, “that prescription drugs may pose the single most important class of unrecognized and avoidable cancer risks for the entire U.S. population.” On the other hand, the pharmaceutical industry makes even more money in the sale of drugs to treat the side effects of conventional treatment once a patient has cancer. It is any wonder that medical politics is adamantly against using herbal therapy in the treatment of cancer?
References: (1) Weil, A. (1998). Health and Healing. (p 97). New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. (2) Ausubel, K. (2000). When Healing Becomes a Crime. (p 188, 286). Vermont: Healing Arts Press. (3) Epstein, S. (1998). The Politics of Cancer Revisited. (p 481). New York: East Ridge Press.