I have often wondered why people think that a product is better if it is natural? Perhaps it is our fear of the concept of a chemical, although some are as innocuous as sodium chloride, as useful as acetic acid and as necessary as a certain simple compound of two tightly bound oxygen atoms.
Of course, too much of any good thing can be bad, as what might happen if you added a third oxygen to the molecule described above. Maybe the problem is not understanding that 'natural' things can be as toxic as arsenic or, more to the point, nutmeg.
Maybe it's just that we don't trust corporate entities that live or die by their financial performance. Why should the profit motive have an ethic sufficient to do 'the right thing'? it's certainly not the longevity of their 'good name'. Consider that General Electric is the only company in the Dow Jones Industrial Index at both of the last century turns. And of course, it is difficult to find data to convince people to override impressions formed by memory. Will you ever forget the images of Bhopal? Pharmaceutical companies have lied, I think. I can't remember where it was proven and where they settled, but was it Celebrex, Vioxx or...? Well, there's always DES. It was on the evening news, honest.
Some patients come in with long lists of medications; herbal medications that is. "Well, they're not really medication, " they say, puzzled that I even asked. I will not engage them in the argument, because they may not really care what I have to say.
But let's face it, many pharmaceuticals are derived from plants. The old remedy of foxglove, usually taken in a tea, has been very useful for "strengthening" the heart. It is very effective, since its major ingredient is digitalis. If you clean it up, get rid of all the plant bits, purify and compress it into a tablet with a very specific dose, you get digoxin.
How common was foxglove used in the past? It can be seen in the background of some Van Gogh paintings. But it has a downside, a very narrow dosage range between effectiveness and toxicity. Unlike nutmeg, which is only toxic in doses similar to the ones at which saccharine was fed to mice, foxglove causes as many heart problems as it solves. An interesting aside on the subject of Van Gogh, is that foxglove can cause psychological problems and some strange visual disturbances involving the intensity of the color yellow. The only way to take it safely is in a pill.
This brilliant commentary on herbal remedies has got me thinking, but a little chamomile and verbena is what I need for my cold right now. FDA is regulating everything else that might make me feel better.