Once rejected by the medical establishment, alternative treatments such as herbal medicines and acupuncture are sometimes being used in tandem with established medical procedures
Tue, Jun 26, 2018, 07:01 Louise Ní Chríodáin - Irish Times
While many western-trained doctors and pharmacists continue to reject all alternative medical treatments, others are embracing a complementary approach, or even integrating their conventional training with other medical traditions.
Niamh Boden was not exposed to herbal medicine while growing up, but was fascinated by the science of how drugs work in the body and so chose to study pharmacy. “We did do a section in our course in Queen’s on pharmacognosy, which is the science of plants, and I found that very interesting,” she recalls.
Boden worked as a hospital pharmacist before moving into retail and finally establishing her own business, Dunville Pharmacy in Dublin’s Ranelagh. Five years ago, she decided to enrol at the College of Naturopathic Medicine to study herbal medicine and naturopathy, believing that expanding into herbal medicines could help the business stand out from other pharmacies.
What she didn’t expect was how much the course would change her own lifestyle. “I saw this other side to healthcare which was about looking at your health and your well-being. It wasn’t about taking this herb to fix A or this herb to fix B, it was about finding balance in your life,” she says.
“It was really helpful for my own health and my family’s. When I started the course I would have got quite sick through the winter. I would have been on antibiotics, had chest infections, been very run down, feeling exhausted all the time. I realised I needed to take more time out for myself, to stop working 50 hours a week, to cook wholesome meals with good ingredients, and I started using the herbs. That first year, I had a really bad cough and my teacher gave me a mixture with myrrh in it and a few lung tonics, and literally within three days I was completely better. I was amazed and surprised at how well it worked. From that day on I haven’t touched an antibiotic.”
Boden says there is a place for herbal treatments alongside pharmaceutical medicines. “If somebody, for example, was on a high-tech medicine for rheumatoid arthritis, I’d be reluctant to give them herbs. I think there is a time in everybody’s life when they are grateful for the medicines that we have, for themselves or for their families. However, I think we reach for them too easily.
“When I started to take an interest in plant medicine I realised that a lot of the phytochemicals present in plants can have a similar reaction in the body to chemical medicines but are much gentler. The famous examples would be digoxen from the foxglove plant, and aspirin from the plant Salix alba, but when you take the whole plant you don’t get the side effects that may be associated with the chemical. The way we were taught on the herbal medicine course is that when you use the whole plant it is balanced. They are singing the praises of turmeric now and what the pharmaceutical companies would love to do is isolate its most potent phytochemical, curcumin, license it and sell it. Whereas if you take it in its natural form you will have less side effects.”
Boden has now begun to produce and dispense her own herbal remedies under the label BodeWell Botanicals. “I want to specialise in herbal medicine. We are only doing it in a small way at the minute, but the teas and the tinctures I am giving people seem to be really helping. The teas are very gentle and I find that they are really good, even for children. I have customers who give our Dream Tea to their children for sleep. It is chamomile-based with a few other herbs in there, such as lavender. It just helps you switch off. The tincture would be stronger, that would have valerian in it. Studies show that valerian modulates GABA receptors in the brain in the same way that benzodiazepines do, but without the side-effects, so it does make you drowsy.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a herb to fix everything but with the right changes in lifestyle, if you’re not too far gone you can bring your body back to balance. For example, I do a nice tea for gastric reflux, so instead of going on a proton pump inhibitor you can take the tea, which will have an anti-inflammatory effect on the stomach, but you will need to make changes in your diet as well. There will be cases – like with a hiatus hernia – where you may have to go on medication to protect yourself, but every case is individual.