Science of natural remedies

Skeptics Circle Those who believe in alternative medicines often claim that science is somehow fighting against them, that science will never validate the therapies they believe in. Reasons given are many: the therapy won’t work under controlled conditions; science doesn’t consider the emotions of the patient; big pharma are conspiring to ridicule alternative medicine to increase their own profits; the studies are flawed; and the old favourite, well it works for me.

Sometimes though, science surprises the alties by validating one of these therapies. Take this recent study for example which shows that berberine, a substance used in ancient chinese medicine, may actually be useful against diabetes and obesity:

The researchers found that a dose of the compound, given orally, caused blood sugar levels to go down, led to fewer fats circulating in the bloodstream, made insulin work better and lowered the animals’ body weights.

Unlike the alternative medicide purveyors though, who will no doubt be marketing this stuff much more vigorously based on this study, scientists are cautious:

We would not recommend that anyone attempts to use this as a treatment in its current form as this research only focuses on animals. We will wait to see the results of further research with interest.

So what will happen if these findings are replicated and berberine is found to be safe and effective? If it works, it will be used in the treatment of diabetes and obesity and it will be medicine without any need for the “alternative” qualifier.

2 thoughts on “Science of natural remedies”

  1. I always think of the example of aspirin. You can buy a willow tree bark extract as an alternative to aspirin, but then again aspirin is made from that same extract as an alternative that isn’t so hard on the stomach. So sure, buy the natural herbal equivalent, but don’t come crying to me when you develop stomach ulcers. Probably what will happen is they’ll extract whatever chemicals in berberine work, give it a fancy name, and the original will still be available in health food stores next to the willow tree.

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