Nearly one-third of Americans use herbs and it is estimated that in 1998 alone $4 billion was spent on herbal products in this country. Unfortunately, a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that nearly 70% of individuals taking herbal medicines (the majority of which were well educated and had a higher-than-average income) were reluctant to reveal their use of complementary and alternative medicine to their doctors. Because herbal medicines contain a combination of chemicals, each with a specific action, many are capable of eliciting complex physiological responses—some of which may create unwanted or unexpected results when combined with conventional drugs. Be sure to consult your doctor before trying any herbal products.
What happens during a visit to an herbalist?
When you visit an herbalist, the treatment goals are often more broad than stopping a single complaint. Herbalists aim to correct imbalances, resolve patterns of dysfunction, and treat the underlying cause of your complaint. Specific symptoms may also be treated if necessary.
A session with an herbalist typically lasts one hour. You may be physically examined and asked about your medical history and your general well-being (that is, how well you sleep, what you eat, if you have a good appetite, good digestion and elimination, how often you exercise, and what you do to relax). The herbalist might recommend one or more herbs, dietary changes, and lifestyle modifications. Because herbal medicines are slower acting than pharmaceuticals, you might be asked to return for a follow-up in two to four weeks.
Are there experts in herbal medicine?
Herbalists, chiropractors, naturopathic physicians, and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine all use herbs to treat illness. Naturopathic physicians believe that the body is continually striving for balance and that natural therapies can be used to support this process. They are trained in four-year, postgraduate institutions that combine courses in conventional medical science (such as pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, and surgery) with clinical training in herbal medicine, homeopathy, nutrition, and lifestyle counseling.