Time for drugs to get back to earth
Natural medicines a healthy alternative?
Many of us think about greening our lives on a daily basis. We think about how much water disappears down the drain with every morning shower and about about how we could reduce the carbon footprint of our daily commute.
But we don’t always think of our health in that context.
If a doctor prescribes a medication, few ask where it comes from, how it’s made, or whether it’s potentially harmful to us or the environment. And when the medication expires or we don’t need it anymore, it’s often flushed down the toilet and into the environment.
Taking a green approach to health means asking whether there are alternatives to conventional therapies and medications.
It means finding good health through nutritious foods, exercise and naturally derived treatments.
„We need to go back into the woods a little way,” said Harlan Lahti, founder of Vancouver’s Finlandia Pharmacy, which specializes in natural medicine. „We need to get back to the earth.”
Lahti, who is a licensed pharmacist, started Finlandia more than 30 years ago after working with senior citizens and becoming frustrated with their reliance on pharmaceuticals. „Back then, it seemed that drugs were the answer,” he said. „But it’s become a monster. How do we escape this monster we’ve created?”
Natural medicine, also referred to as complementary medicine, is a multi-billion-dollar industry that is earning increasing acceptance.
A 2005 Health Canada poll found that 71 per cent of Canadians had used alternative health products. Of those, the biggest groups were vitamins at 57 per cent; echinacea at 15 per cent; and herbal remedies, algal and fungal products, all at 11 per cent. The poll also found that while 77 per cent of Canadians believe natural health products can be used to maintain or promote health and 68 per cent believe they can treat illness, only 43 per cent considered such products better than conventional medicines.
Alan Cassels, a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria, is co-author of the book Selling Sickness, which focuses on the role pharmaceutical companies play in helping to create and market illness.
Cassels says there are plenty of effective natural treatments that are too easily dismissed by medical doctors.
„Part of the problem with the marketing of illness is (drug companies) are also marketing the solution, which is always a patented pharmaceutical. And for a lot of things, there are very simple and cheap herbal treatments,” Cassels said.
„There’s a lot of argument in the medical community about whether they work or not, but there is growing research around a lot of alternative treatments. So for doctors to dismiss them out of hand, saying there’s not enough research, I think is kind of lazy medicine.”