European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association

Scoping the Evidence for the Effectiveness of Herbal Medicine in UK

A selective review on behalf of the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (EHTPA), January 2014. Mc Clure, L. (PhD), Flower, A. (PhD), Price, S. (PhD)

A summary: Heike Brunner/PR- ANME e.V.

A recent systematic review of research into the use of complementary medicine estimated that in the first decade of this century more than a third of UK citizens used herbal medication. Herbal medicines are frequently used in the treatment of long-term conditions which are inadequately managed by conventional biomedicine. In this respect herbal medicine will advance to be one of the main factors in the health sector for the treatment of the expanding chronic diseases as a single or complementary therapy.

The history of the traditional use of herbal medicine is stretching back hundreds and in some cases thousands of years. Whereas current biochemical medicine is relatively recent and was established and revolutionized through the testing methods of Evidence Based Medicine (EBM). Here, single active substance are under examination for their effectiveness and safety.

This rigorous and with its criteria for exclusion, simple survey method, which is useful in conventional medicine to find single active substances, is now also be applied to the analysis of herbal medicine. In general the analysis into the effectiveness of herbal medicine is to be welcomed, but EBM standards will not do justice to herbal therapies. Firstly it needs to be taken into account that herbal medicine works through the synergy between active ingredients and on a synkinetic level. Secondly, all treatments are absolutely individualised. Thus it is important that specific aspects of traditional uses are included in the research of herbal medicine to determine the correct applications and effects.

If these aspects are included into the research the intense investment of time and money needed becomes clear. If we want to research herbal medicine as thoroughly as allopathic medicine is through EBM this will need to be properly supported.

Rationale/Background

In 2011, a directive was established in the UK to create a statuary register of all practitioners supplying unlicensed herbal remedies within the UK. In respect to this worrying development the need to evaluate herbal medicine is timely. A comprehensive review under the auspices of EPHTA's Research Committee is planned for the near future.

Methodology

The presentation contains a selective review of the effectiveness of herbal medicine for a number of common diseases. It has been devised to illustrate some of the areas where herbal medicine could make a useful contribution to mainstream healthcare. It is not intended as a comprehensive and systematic evaluation of the evidence. There were four ratings of effectiveness: High, Moderate, Low and Very Low.

Result

The following diseases were included in the examination: Cardiovascular conditions, diabetes type 2, skin conditions (eczema), irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) and MRSA. For most diseases herbs with High and Moderate ratings were found. In the study only single herbs were examined which contravenes the traditional use of herbal mixtures that rely on the synergy effect of the combined herbs.

Based on these results EPHA is calling for further research using scientific methodology specifically geared towards the actual uses and application methods of herbal medicine. Herbal medicine could be the answer as the treatment of long-term and chronic diseases and should not be displaced simply due to lack of sufficient evidence.

Study 2014

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