Herbs to Heal: Integrating Medicine

Tips for doctors and patients

| May/June 1998

  • Illustrations by Vitello

It is an exam room like any other—gray-green walls, fluorescent lighting, thin white paper spread on the exam table. But on this exam table sits a covered bowl decorated with dragons chasing each other’s tails.

The doctor, stethoscope around her neck, observes as the patient opens the container. Inside is a dark brown Jello-like blob. The patient tells the doctor that he obtained it from a Chinese herbalist; the physician pokes at it gingerly with her finger.

“Doesn’t look very appetizing,” she offers. The ­patient, an elderly gentleman suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, ignores her.

“Will it help me?” he asks plaintively. And, like many allopathic physicians across the country, she can only reply: “I have no idea.” But she realizes that she must learn, because being asked about herbal medicine is not a rare event in her clinic.

And such queries are likely to become more common. According to a survey by Prevention magazine, about one-third of all adults living in the United States use herbal remedies, creating a $3.2 billion market for botanicals. And the number of herbal remedy users is growing by 15 percent ­annually.

Communication Gaps

Patients’ reluctance to talk about their use of herbal remedies may be linked to the decreasing but ever-­present perception that herbal medicines are something akin to “snake oil.” It may also be tied to a belief that medical doctors don’t know much about herbs, which, unfortunately, is often true. Western medical training ­ignores herbal remedies (although that’s changing). And, because of busy schedules and mounds of medical reports to read, doctors often don’t have time to study them.

7/29/2016 3:21:32 AM

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