Frontiers Of Herbal Medicine

Posted on March 12, 2020

The use of herbal medicinal products and supplements has increased tremendously over the past three decades with not less than 80% of people worldwide relying on them for some part of primary healthcare. 

It is estimated that up to four billion people (representing 80% of the world’s population) living in the developing world rely on herbal medicinal products as a primary source of healthcare and traditional medical practice which involves the use of herbs is viewed as an integral part of the culture in those communities. The use of herbal remedies has also been widely embraced in many developed countries with complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) now becoming mainstream in the UK and the rest of Europe, as well as in North America and Australia

In fact, while places like the UK have a historical tradition of using herbal medicines (Nissen, 2010), the use is also widespread and well established in some other European countries (Calapai, 2008). In these developed countries, the most important among many other reasons for seeking herbal therapy is the belief that it will promote healthier living. Herbal medicines are, therefore, often viewed as a balanced and moderate approach to healing and individuals who use them as home remedies and over-the-counter drugs spend huge amount of money (in excess of billions of dollars) on herbal products. This explains in part the reason sales of herbal medicines are booming and represents a substantial proportion of the global drug market

With a great deal of medical focus being directed to the impact of aging, there is renewed interest in the use of herbs as an alternative to current medical and pharmacological practices.

Aging is a progressive and multi-step degeneration in the physiological functions and metabolic processes of living organisms until death. It represents the main risk factor for a number of debilitating diseases and contributes to increase in mortality. With increasing life expectancy, the number of patients with age related diseases will continue to rise, leading to an increased healthcare burden. There is a need for new therapies to treat this growing number of patients in a manner that is effective and sustainable.

Aging presents profound physiological changes in the cardiovascular system and the relationship between cardiovascular pathology and neurodegenerative diseases is well known. Ischemic events due to cardiac pathology or stroke can lead to cardiovascular dementia and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Cardiac pathology has also been found to be associated with other neurodegenerative conditions such as Huntington’s disease. Interestingly, it is hypothesized that factors systemically linking these pathologies are associated with neuroinflammation and oxidative stress pathways. While the underlying mechanisms in the aging heart or brain are still unclear, greater research is needed to test the potential for pharmacological interventions in these pathways.

Natural plants have been associated with traditional medical approaches for thousands of years all over the world. Great varieties of plants have persisted in such usage for medicinal treatments in various cultures and many new drugs have been discovered from herbal sources. The 2015 Nobel Prize awarded to Professor Tu, a Chinese pharmaceutical scientist, for the discovery of artemisinin renewed global interest in herbal medicine, and potential integration of such approaches into evidence-based medical systems. Medicinal plants have shown to be beneficial in decreasing the occurrence or delay of the neurodegenerative process induced by cardiovascular and mixed pathological events. It is believed that many of the medicinal herbs have anti-aging properties, but the mechanisms and safety remain unclear.

Traditional medicines have been in place for literally thousands of years, it is likely that humans have used plants as medicine for as long as we have existed. Archeological excavations dated as early as 60,000 years ago have found remains of medicinal plants, such as opium poppies, ephedra, and cannabis.

Since the beginning, humans have experimented with plants to learn how they can help us heal. In essence, humans have been involved for thousands of years in a vast “clinical trial” with medicinal plants. The wisdom that resulted from this global experiment is a large part of our history of healing and healthcare.

Herbal medicines are not for everybody and further research on many plants will continue as a means of identifying new therapy options.

Current herbal medicines and remedies are available in Australia and typically produced by companies who have TGA licenses to ensure products meet the highest manufacturing standards.

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