Do you feel like your parents or elders are over medicated? Do you feel like there are gaps in their healthcare regimen that are not being addressed? Have you heard statements made such as, 'this is just what happens' (as you get older?)
My grandmother heard this many times.
Yes, certain changes in our bodies indeed tend to happen as we age but how we take care of ourselves can make a big difference in how we experience aging.
Having a family doctor is necessary and important, however our healthcare system does not often address underlying problems. Simply put, if we stop taking our medication, our problems persist. They continue to be there all along. On top of that, we may be experiencing nutritional deficiencies or negative side effects from some of them (which may lead to more medications).
Don't get me wrong, I am not against conventional medicine. Sometimes it may be the best course of action to take medication to help decrease risk, prolong life or ease pain. But there are tools at our disposal that our grandparents and great grandparents knew of that mainstream medicine has more or less forgotten about (despite a lot of substantiating research and empirical evidence)-- and that is herbal medicine!
So, what is herbal medicine?
Herbal medicine refers to the use of plant medicine (the use of a whole plant, a bark, a root or perhaps leaves and flowers). Every culture around the world from present day and throughout history, has its own form of this. It is the oldest form of medicine and a lot of pharmaceutical drugs used today were derived from plants (some examples include, Drug: Metformin derived from Galega officinalis (Goat's rue); Drug: Morphine derived from Papaver somniferum (Opium Poppy); Drug: Aspirin derived from Salix alba (White willow).
There's a lot of research available that substantiates the effects of herbal medicine. A lot of it focused on isolated constituents which can be very useful in helping educate and validate why herbal preparations have a long history of use/effectiveness.
On the other hand, herbal medicine is much more complex than we can sometimes understand. For instance- the complexity of a plant, and all it's medicinal constituent parts working together-- may make certain herbal medicines good contenders in antibiotic resistance. The chemical complexity of a herbal preparation makes it more difficult for bacteria or viruses to evolve and anticipate how to overcome its effects.
The synergy of a plant can also mitigate otherwise negative effects of isolated compounds. Excessive use of salicylic acid (first found in Salix alba or White Willow bark) found in aspirin may lead to irritation of the stomach lining or lead to internal bleeding. However using Salix alba (White willow) bark itself, does not carry this risk. (This does not mean that if you are taking aspirin for blood thinning effects- that White Willow bark is a suitable/the best substitute. Please work with a Registered Herbalist).
Is herbal medicine safe?
A Registered Herbalist has completed all the necessary requirements in study and clinical hours to safely and effectively incorporate herbal medicine into your treatment protocols-- no matter what age you may find yourself. Herbal medicine can work into most health conditions. Nutritional considerations, dietary and lifestyle recommendations are also assessed to help restore or optimize your health.
Any toxic exposure to herbal medicine is very rare and recorded cases have largely been due to incorrectly identifying a plant or a problem with the supplier and labeling. Unfortunately there has been a double edged sword kind of myth surrounding herbal medicine, either "it is not effective enough," or, "it is too dangerous" for use- and neither is the case. A competent herbalist will use appropriate herbs and dosing, consider herb-drug interactions and changes in a client's absorption, metabolism and excretion rates.
What kind of conditions may herbal medicine work into when it comes to senior holistic care?
This is the fun part-- as herbal medicine can be such a wonderful gentle but effective ally in senior care! Some of the conditions may include,
Decreased digestion and nutrient absorption
Hormone imbalance (for women or men)
Infections (viral, bacterial, parasitic, fungal)
Blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol problems
Side effect management from medications
And the list could go on...
"Why does mainstream medicine not incorporate herbal medicine into healthcare," you may ask?
Mostly because those trained in conventional medicine (like your doctor) may not be trained to recognize or substantiate herbal medicine. Each practitioner is trained to adopt and become familiar with a certain 'tool box' with which they can help their patients or clients- and herbal medicine was replaced with modern medications (many of which were based on medicinal constituents first recognized in plants as stated above). This can be very helpful in certain situations, as we cannot underestimate the benefits of modern medicine-- but there are countless studies that show benefits and increasing potential of herbal medicine and it carries significantly less side effects and works with the body to support its natural processes.
The good news is that there are integrative clinics and other practitioners in our communities that work with the body holistically and can be an asset as part of your wellness team. They don't replace your doctor, but they can help fill in the gaps through nutritional/dietary help, lifestyle recommendations, herbal medicine and supplementation. It never hurts to get another opinion and advocate for your health (whether you are hoping to avoid medications and looking for other options, or are already taking them).
So what exactly does a Herbalist do?
A herbal consultation usually starts with a 1-1.5 hour full consultation whereby past medical history is thoroughly reviewed along with current medication or supplement use. Herbalists also take into consideration reviewing all body systems and symptoms/imbalances that may correspond with them. Lab work, imaging or diagnostic reports can be shared to provide additional information.
Herbalists may recommend tinctures (herbal extracts), tea blends, salves or creams (topicals) for individualized and personal care alongside dietary and lifestyle recommendations.
So, all of this said-- you may be wondering where to start. And why, or how you may safely explore this for yourself or a loved one?
I'm a Registered Herbalist and active member of the Ontario Herbalist Association. I work with the Center for Advanced Medicine in Markham, Ontario which is an integrative clinic. I also have a private practice (Traditional Medicine Speaks).
I come from a home where supporting family and my elders is a big part of my life. I helped support my grandmother through home care and palliative care and have been a volunteer in long term care from when I was young. I'm passionate in advocating for the health and holistic support of our elders. There is always room to either optimize our health or give therapeutic support. It may also feel comforting to incorporate some of that traditional, old world medicine that some of our elders may have grown up with or recall from childhood.
Also, you'd be amazed at what a good cup of tea can do...but I'll leave that for..another blog post!!
Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or inquiries. I look forward to connecting with you!
This article was written to help provide seniors with alternative options, however it is not limited to seniors only. Herbal medicine is helpful to help address health concerns for any age.
**Disclaimer: a Registered Herbalist is not a substitute to your Medical Doctor. Please work with a Registered Herbalist before integrating herbal medicine into your routine as there may be pharmaceutical drugs or comorbidities to consider. Please feel free to inquire or book an appointment to get started.