Medical Costs Rise as Americans Turn to Herbal Alternative Medicine

James A. Duke, Ph.D. suggests that Americans turn back to herbal alternative medicine and choose herbs and leafy green foods instead of costly Western medicine..

| December 1999/January 2000

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    One of the world's leading authorities on herbal healing, James A. Duke is author of The Green Pharmacy, as well as the Handbook of Medicinal Spices. Active in rain forest preservation, he leads ecotours in the Amazon.
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    Jim and Peggy Duke established The Green Pharmacy Garden in 1998.
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    The Green Pharmacy Garden is land covered in medicinal herbs grown for a host of ailments.
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    Over the past decade, James Duke has campaigned for comparative trials of medicinal herbs and their corresponding pharmaceuticals.

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With health-care costs skyrocketing, Americans are turning to herbal alternative medicine. (See the alternative medicine photos in the image gallery.) 

At a time when the entire Western world is looking forward to a new year, a new century and a new millennium — I'd like to challenge this nation's physicians and pharmacists to do just the opposite: look back. It's my belief that the future of medicine is rooted in the past, before chemists undertook to synthesize synthetic silver bullets for all that ails, and before pharmaceutical companies hitched our collective health to what has become for them a multibillion-dollar wagon.

I've spent close to 40 years (most of those in the employ of the United States Department of Agriculture) investigating the medicinal properties of plants, sampling most everything green from the north woods of Maine to the south woods of sweet home Alabama and from Amazonia to Africa, Asia and Australia. What I've learned has convinced me that modern medicine's blind faith in pharmaceutical "smart missiles" — drugs designed to strike narrowly defined disease target can often times be misguided.

If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on the herbal alternative to be cheaper, safer and overall better for you than its synthetic counterpart. Trouble is, doctors, drug companies, even the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have so far seemed unwilling to take that bet.

Open most any issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and you'll read about comparative head-on trials of various drugs: Hytrin ® versus Proscar ® for benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlarged prostate), dihydroergotamine versus sumatriptan for acute migraine and .so on. Omitted from virtually all of these studies, however, is any consideration of the herbal alternatives, regardless of their potential.

The National Cancer Institute is even now funding a comparison of the drugs tamoxifen and raloxifene to see which is the better breast cancer preventative. Never mind that tamoxifen increases a woman's risk for uterine cancer and blood clots. Meanwhile, the American Cancer Society (ACS) continues to insist that there's no proof that any food or diet helps. How can it know? Until tamoxifen and raloxifene are compared to standardized bean soup (40 milligrams of isoflavones per cup) and/or to kudzu (our best source of the natural phyto estrogen, daidzein) no one knows for sure — not you, me or the ACS.


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