Posted by: Chris Maloney | November 27, 2012

Why Your Herbalist Shouldn’t Perform Surgery On You.

English: Plastic Surgeon Vishal Kapoor, MD per...

English: Plastic Surgeon Vishal Kapoor, MD performing liposuction surgery on female patient using the super-wet technique. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The answer is pretty obvious: because she wasn’t trained to be a surgeon.  But reverse that thought and sudden it isn’t very obvious.

Smart patients trust their surgeons to give them sage advice (pun intended) on herbs.  Really.

Has the surgeon received any training in herbs?  Not likely.  Does the surgeon use herbs every day in practice?  Not usually.  So does the surgeon have any more information on herbs than the patient does?  No.  In many cases the patient knows more about the herb in question than the surgeon does.

But the surgeon is, well, a surgeon.  They know about these things.  Somehow by osmosis surgeons pick up a Phd degree in botany and herbal preparations as they race between surgical shifts.

True, a surgeon may look up information on an herb from a medical handbook.  Having purchased many such handbooks, I can attest that their information is widely different.  Mosby, which does a good nurse’s manual, sends out a Handbook for Herbs and Natural Supplements, with a new edition regularly.

Here is one particularly nasty herb that the Handbook:  it should not be given to children and should not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding.  The herb could act as a diuretic and lower the body’s potassium levels.  All the information on this herb is traditional and lacks scientific evidence.

What is this dread herb?  The common cucumber.  Yes, that’s right.  Beware your salad cucumber because it lacks the necessary scientific validation from the medical authorities.

The problem is that as soon as the herb becomes a little less familiar, we start fearing it.  Here’s another terrible herb, which may cause nausea, vomiting, anorexia, and the inability to breathe.  The standard warnings are there against the use during pregnancy or giving it to children.  The herb?  Oregano.

Another herb may increase bleeding times, and should of course never be given to children or pregnant mothers.  It may even cause uterine contractions.  The dread herb:  pineapple.

A look through the world of medical herbology is fraught with terror.  In a quick perusal of an authoritative handbook for nurses on herbs, I find myself swearing off one of my favorite fruits and wondering if I should warn my patients about the dangers of cucumbers.

So think about that the next time your surgeon warns you about the possible dangers of an herbal tea available on your supermarket shelf and drunk for several thousand years by millions of people.  It might be time for a second opinion.



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