EVER since the start of the Modern Age, it has always been a debate whether what’s the better treatment: herbal medicine or synthetic drugs.
When you ask your mothers and grandmothers, they’ll tell you that the natural way is the right way in treatment. But, when asking the more modern-minded people, they’ll pick the scientific drugs over any alternative medicine. So, what’s the real deal?
According to a World Health Organization, there are 250,000 practitioners of traditional medicine in the Philippines. Natural medicine users have been growing ever since the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act of 1997 (or Tama) was implemented. Because of this, the country has been majorly supporting the use of alternative medicine, and is more inclined towards it over the latter years.
There are a lot of advantages to herbal medicine, according to Health Guidance. It’s a lot less cheap than most synthetic medicine and it’s also very easily attainable. Most, if not all, herbal medicines are mostly considered over-the-counter medicine, which do not need any doctor’s prescription to buy it. These alternative medicines also don’t really have serious side-effects and are mainly promoting general wellness.
But, they have disadvantages as well. It’s ineffective against very serious conditions. You can’t really fix a broken arm with herbal medicine, can you? It may also trigger allergies, if you’re not careful.
Steven Salzberg, a prominent biology researcher at University of Maryland, calls alternative medicine as “cleverly marketed, dangerous quackery”.
He even said that “the more time they spend getting fraudulent treatments, the less time they’ll spend getting treatments that work and that could save their lives.”
This brings us to the advantages of modern medicine.
According to Elizabeth Blackburn, a biologist at the University of California at San Francisco and a Nobel laureate, modern medicine was formed around success in fighting infectious diseases. This means that while alternative medicine promotes the general well-being of a person, modern medicine aims to attack a specific disease.
The biggest advantage of modern medicine is actually the biggest disadvantage of alternative medicine – it’s effective on more serious conditions.
Imagine breaking a leg. Would you consider going to an herbalist instead of a doctor whose expertise are more inclined towards your injury?
In the Philippine Health System Review for 2011, it is said that in the 2006 FIES, the average Filipino household spends about P4,000 per year on medical care. Drugs account for almost 70 percent of total household out-of-pocket (OOP) payments while less than 10 percent of total OOP is spent on professional fees. Especially in the world today, most people opt to go to modern medicine.
But, it has its disadvantages as well. Modern medicine is more expensive when it comes to the more serious diseases. There are other cases where the chemicals are too strong for some bodies to handle.
So, with the advantages and disadvantages of both interchanging, which really is the better one?
"For as long as BFAD approved, okay lang man yan (Herbal medicine is okay. Meron yang (It has) scientific basis na pwede siya for consumption. Pero, hindi parin (But it is not) priority ang non-medicinal [Herbal] over medicinal [Synthetic] because there are illnesses or medical conditions that cannot be treated or managed using non-medicinal or herbal regimens,” Mari Pearl Agawin, an obstetrician/gynecologist, shared.
Dr. Agawin also added that there are no scientific bases that the synthetic medicine is proven more effective if not any, over the herbal medicine. With this, as long as your illness gets cured, the opinion of the more effective treatment depends on you.
“Whether human-made or natural, the most important criteria for a medicine’s use is safety, effectiveness and quality: identity, purity, potency and stability,” Joe Albers, Pharmacist, Pharm.D., Ph.D., said. (Fhrea Zenntine Malinit)