Traditional and Herbal Healing: Enhancing Allopathic Methods

Modern day doctors’ office visits have stayed consistent throughout United States history. Patients file in, wait to be called into a room, then have a few  moments to quickly describe their entire health history and the current health issues they are experiencing. Afterwards, a physician, often over-scheduled and overworked, prescribes a treatment based on this quick conversation. A survey published by Medical Economics stated that 71% of respondents feel that their physician lacked empathy and that they usually feel rushed when receiving care. But what if this fast-paced and quick-fix style of healthcare was not the only option? What if instead we encouraged a healthcare environment that allowed doctors to spend a quality amount of time with their patients in order to thoroughly discuss their situation holistically? And what if physicians were not shoehorned into providing only one form of treatment – and instead discussed a variety of treatment options, where patients had a say in deciding what is best?

Imagine the ability to discuss and select different options of treatment. Instead of a prescription of Lexapro, a common allopathic medication used to treat anxiety and depression, patients could be provided with a prescription of cannabinoid tincture, a natural oil used to relieve anxiety and pain, and a strict regimen of exercise and appetite changes. Over the recent years, there has been an increasing number of doctors who have begun transitioning out of strictly allopathic approaches; and are turning to the knowledge of groups that have used herbal-based and natural healing for centuries. This duality allows for a future of medicine in which diverse options of healing practices are encouraged. This approach could create an inclusive, informed, and patient-centered environment that would allow for more optimal care for patients, and the best care satisfaction experience for care providers. 

There has been a noticeable increase in the usage of herbal products. According to a study done at UCSF: alternative wellness products are already in the health regimens of about 20% of Americans. Many countries overseas continue to successfully implement a healthcare system that utilizes both traditional and allopathic knowledge when providing care. The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that in some countries traditional or herbal medicine is a staple. In China the WHO states that traditional and herbal products account for 50% of total medicinal consumption and in many South American and Middle Eastern countries it is a staple in everyday care. However despite the success stories of other countries using this hybrid system; the United States medical system continues to view traditional healing practices as a less-effective treatment alternative that cannot replace conventional western treatment options. 

 In order to make substantial progress towards a future in the U.S. where the two forms of care are intertwined, drastic reform is necessary to research, establish efficacy and design a system to standardize the distribution and usage of alternative methods. The alienation of herbal and natural remedies is upheld by the Medical systems strict abidance to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) classifications. In 1994 the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA) classified herbal and natural medicines as dietary supplements. This piece of legislation stated that “In order for an ingredient of a dietary supplement to be a “dietary ingredient,” it must be one or any combination of the following substances: a vitamin, a mineral, a herb or other botanical, an amino acid, a dietary substance for use by man to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake, or a concentrate, metabolite, constituent or extract”. Under this framework, herbal medicine was therefore not classified by the FDA as a medicine at all–instead it is classified as a food or dietary supplement. This classification has led to an extreme lack of support for funding or efforts to research and test herbal products. There is not enough information to overcome the limitations of how to properly manufacture some of these substances which have been used for centuries as powerful herbal remedies. The Oxford Journal of Nutrition claims that it does not seem likely that herbal products are to become an accepted and prescribed alternative to standard medical treatments. This creates a system that establishes one line of care as “normal” or effective, and prevents patients from being informed of or allowed to choose from alternative methods–methods that they might find to be more personally comfortable with. 

 Pamela Fischer, a registered herbalist and president and founder of The Berkeley Herbal Center (a local clinical herbalism school) has spent the past 30 years learning and working with the various types of herbal and traditional healing practices used worldwide. Fischer has used her years of experience to teach others about how to provide preventative care using healing and medicine that conserves land and comes from an understanding of nature. Fischer hopes to see a future where the U.S. moves towards a healthcare system that places emphasis on compassion, prevention and care that is holistic in considering body, mind and nature. 

When recounting an experience in which she accompanied a patient to a routine doctor’s visit, Fischer recounts that her patient presented the physician with some of the issues they were having and “the patient was well in their 80s and had never had any drug therapy previously and they didn’t really need it”. Despite this, “he (the physician) gave the patient a multitude of prescriptions”. As the patient’s advocate, Fisher inquired about the necessity of using these medications and asked if the doctor felt comfortable with the patient utilizing more natural forms or herbal treatments. Fischer explains that “he couldn’t even answer, because there’s no space in that system for something different”. Fischer does believe, however, that conventional medicine “has its place, but it is isolating for both doctors and patients”

Nonetheless, it is not all black and white. There are health workers and physicians that are turning away from this exclusionary system. Frustrated by not having the means to provide compassionate and comprehensive care and being held down by insurance and pharmaceutical systems, some Medical Doctors have begun to remodel their practices to incorporate holistic and natural medicine in addition to more conventional treatments. These doctor “revolutionaries”, as Fischer put it, are possibly the spark to creating a system where we no longer go to the doctor to fix the symptoms of a problem, but rather to tackle the source of a health issue– a future where healthcare is revolutionized to be preventative and to actually keep people healthy.