Herbs, Supplements, and Medications – Oh My!

Jan 25, 2017 by

You can have me read this article to you instead of reading it yourself…

Or you can read it the old-fashioned way below…

So many options – Oh My!

“I’d rather use a natural option than a chemical or a drug, especially if it’s for a long time.”

 “I get nervous about giving my kids those drugs.  Isn’t there a natural treatment I could use instead?”

I hear these sentiments all over the place – at home, at work, on this here internet.  I even find myself tilting in that direction at times before I catch myself with a quick splash of cold water and a “get with it, Chelsey!”.  This mentality makes logical sense.  If you could use something ‘natural’, why would you use a processed chemical instead?

We commonly find ourselves going back to an old argument – our ancestors utilized natural remedies and therapies for millennia.  Are we really better off now?  What about all of the things that we are constantly told are poisoning our bodies and making us sicker?  We’re told that this that and the other thing are causing cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. We’re told that all the additives in our foods are causing our guts to revolt.  Can’t we go back to a simpler time when everything was natural and our bodies weren’t forced to encounter new chemicals and substances?

This topic is the gateway to an enormous can of worms – one that I cannot possibly contain through articles on this website alone.  So I want to focus in on one aspect of this topic that I believe is exceptionally important for those of us with chronic conditions.  And I’d like to open it with a quote from those good old days when all of our remedies were as natural as can be.

Nature is Indiscriminate

“Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison.  The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.”


Paracelsus recognized this fact at a time when there were no accepted treatments for specific conditions. Nor were there manufacturers that prepared these treatments in a standardized way, with doctors to prescribe them and pharmacists to dispense them.  He recognized this fact at a time when every remedy was a natural remedy.  And this statement has only become more true over the hundreds of years since it was originally made.

The age-old blood thinner, coumadin (Warfarin), is a natural substance found in certain plants.  At some point, someone realized that consumption of these plants by rats caused unstoppable bleeding and death.  From that point on, it became the rat poison of choice.  When consumed by humans, the right dose can allow for the body to avoid a lethal clot.  At the wrong dose, it can lead to the same outcome that we see in rats.

In the same way, every vitamin (all naturally occurring substances), can be both life-saving and life-threatening.  Too little can cause the body to stop functioning properly, and too much can do the same thing.  We can even stay on the topic of bleeding – an essential vitamin, E, can cause hemorrhages when too much is consumed.

Nature is a force that does not discriminate.  It does not see the world through the human lens of “good and bad”.  It has no comprehension of “benefit and risk”.  It is a force that operates independent of human needs.

Yet, regardless of this, we tend to separate our world into “natural and unnatural”.  Natural has a positive connotation – it is better for us, better for our bodies, better for our health.  Unnatural means that it is not meant to be consumed by our bodies and that it is not inherently good for us.  Or at least, that’s the story we are constantly telling ourselves to believe.

I have already used one quote in this article, but there is another great one that applies here that I just can’t help but include.  I’d like for us all to take a moment of silence as we consider what it is saying before skipping ahead (I can’t make you do it, but I can try to guilt you into it!).

Nature has no bias and can be seen at work as clearly, and as inexorably, in the spread of an epidemic [or] as in the birth of a healthy baby.


Improving on Pure Nature

You may not yet be convinced that the line between “natural” and “unhealthy” is murkier than we would like to believe.  If you would like more information on this topic, please browse and read to your heart’s content.  Hopefully, however, there is now a small crack that you are somewhat willing to peer through.

Because on the other side of this mental barrier there is a whole world of opportunities and perspectives that can lead to better health and simpler lives.  And it doesn’t require anyone to throw out all of their supplements or drugs or foods, or even maybe their preferred lifestyle.  All it requires is a willingness to see things from another angle.

Many of the medications that we have today are based on old natural remedies.  Except they have been purified, standardized, and extensively studied.  For the vast majority of human history, we did not have the ability to isolate the molecule that provided all of the benefits and less of the risks.  We were stuck with the natural remedy in the form that it came in – the plant or the animal – and all of its variations and impurities.  We now have the ability to identify what it is about the plant that is so helpful, and then to isolate it.

As technology and science have surged forward, we have gained the ability to utilize poisons and toxins to a much greater extent than ever before.  Long after the time of Paracelsus, we have acquired the ability to identify the ‘remedy’ in those items which were once considered to be only poison.  This ability alone has improved and saved millions of lives.

An example of this concept on its most basic level is the use of toxins that were previously considered fatal upon exposure in humans.  Life-saving therapies have been derived from the venom of insects and snakes, such as some of our most effective clot-busting drugs.  There are currently studies working to identify chronic pain treatments from some of the compounds found in the venom of the tarantula.

A classic old-world pain treatment, willow bark, was the precursor to aspirin.  Aspirin is a reliable pain reliever and is much more effective than the willow bark it was isolated from.  This product has been used for decades for this reason.  However, now that we have studied its effects and use extensively, we recognize that it can cause bleeding when used often.  This has saved many lives and led us to use other options instead.  At the same time, we have also found that very small doses of aspirin every day can help to prevent stroke and heart attack in certain people, creating an entirely new use for this isolated chemical.

Red yeast rice contains the precursor for some of the most commonly used cholesterol medications on the market – statins.  These medications have been credited with reducing fatal events, such as heart attacks, and are used by a majority of people above the age of 40.  But purified statins are much better at reducing cholesterol than red yeast rice.  And the newer forms of these drugs are also safer to use than large quantities of red yeast rice.

Why Do We Draw a Line?

Natural and herbal remedies are not so different from medications as many would like to believe.  They often originated from the very same place and are also often sought for the treatment of the very same ailments.  But medications are generally considered bad while natural products are generally considered good.  Why is that?  Why can’t we see each for what it is and look at the risks and benefits of each, accordingly?

After all, every substance stands to poison or heal.  It is up to us to use them properly.

Read the next article in this series to learn how to apply this to your own health.  (Or, as always, you can sign up for the newsletter on the top right to have these articles delivered directly to you!)

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