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Alternative Medicine/Difference Between Drugs and Herbs


QUESTION: Hi Sharon,

What would you say is the difference between how herbs and pharmaceutical drugs work?

I've come up with the following :-

a) Drugs have primarily one active ingredient at a higher dose whereas herbs have multiple active ingredients at a much lower dose.
b) Drugs work primarily on one metabolic pathway whereas herbs work on multiple pathways.
c) Drugs need to be taken every day, for life in chronic conditions; whereas herbs can be taken intermittently.
d) One drug is usually taken for a particular condition whereas multiple herbs can be taken intermittently for the same condition.
e) Drugs have unwanted side effects whereas herbs have side benefits.
f) Herbs also have unwanted side effects, but to a far lesser degree than drugs.

Any feedback, corrections welcome!


ANSWER: Hi Usuff
Interesting questions - is this for an assignment?

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: No, not for assignment.
If the question is too hard for you, just let it go.

hi Usuff
Not too hard, just too demanding on my time to give you a full and proper answer.  Some of your concepts are OK:
a) this is essentially correct.  Rather than "ingredients" in herbs (which suggests things get added), we use the term "constituents", which imply the natural composition.  Herbs can also be combined to work in a synergistic manner.
b) correct, primarily due to the nature of the components of each
c) for chronic conditions, that is true of drugs - though some conditions (such as diabetes & hypertension) can be due to modifiable factors which, when addressed, can mean the drugs are no longer needed. Some people take herbs long-term to manage chronic conditions or reduce dependence on medication.  Herbs can also be taken long-term as part of preventative health care.
d) Not quite true.  One drug can have different applications and for some conditions thee are a range of drugs (with different modes of action) that can be used.  This is more true for herbs - each herb has numerous different modes of action, so for any one condition, a herbalist has a wide choice.  If a herbalist is prescribing for a condition, "intermittent" use is usually not recommended.  But this depends on the condition.
e & f) Some uses of drugs have been discovered through the side effects (which makes that "side effect" potentially beneficial).  However, usually side effects of drugs are problematic.  Occasionally herbs have side effects as well, though this is much less common and usually not severe if they occur.

I hope this helps?
I'm sorry - I donate my time on this website and I'm very busy at the moment.
All the best.

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Sharon Erdrich


Any health related question, particularly those related to an holistic approach, using nutrition, herbal medicine, aromatherapy and lifestyle options.


30 years as a registered nurse, Private health consultant and experienced educator of complementary medicine practitioners.

NZAMH, NZ Nursing Council., AIMA (Associate member), Naturopaths of NZ.

Kai Tiaki Journal. Healthy Options Magazine. See my website for downloadable articles.

Reg Nurse, Post Grad Cert Health Science (Nutrition), Dip Herbal Med, Dip Naturopathy, Dip Aromatherapy.

Awards and Honors
Best Research Paper, Top Naturopathic Student (2005)

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Varied, from all ages and with a range of health issues.

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