Critics of “complementary” and “alternative” medicine have long opined that herbal remedies and other “natural” therapies can and do encourage sick people to delay mainstream medicine while they waste time and money on unproven therapies like herbal remedies. Now, a new study of herbal remedy users in Germany finds that fear to be justified.
For this research, six focus groups were formed. Study volunteers were labeled according to whether they were “young”, “middle aged” or “elderly” and then interviewed about the use of herbal medicines.
What the scientists behind this study found was that most people do, in fact, use herbs and herbal remedies to actually treat an illness. Only among the elderly were herbs also widely used to maintain good health and prevent sickness. And while most illnesses being self-treated were characterized as only mild or moderate, herbs were most often used before mainstream medicine was even tried.
When asked why they were so quick to embrace herbal preparations, the study volunteers gave the following reasons:
- They were dissatisfied with mainstream treatments.
- They had past good experiences with herbal products.
- They associated positive aspects with herbal medicines.
- Herbal products were a family tradition.
By far, the most common illness for which someone might choose an herbal remedy was the common cold. Flu, insomnia and pain were also often mentioned. But the volunteers in this study were also trying to self-treat potentially serious conditions like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes with supplements–and that’s a problem, say researchers.
Worse, say these scientists, is that some study volunteers report that they find recommendations from friends and family as credible as actual physician-offered advice.
The study appears at the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine website.