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The Practical Herbalist

Are Herbs Medicine?

When patients first come to see me, I have some paperwork for them to fill out. I am considered a medical provider in the eyes of the law, and have to keep records on my patients. The forms I give a patient, ask a lot of information that can be helpful in my understanding of all the things that may be affecting the way this patient feels. One of the most important and interesting sections is the area where I ask patients to list the medications that they are on. Knowing what medications a patient takes, helps me understand what symptoms may be drug side effects as well as give me an idea as to what herbs I can't prescribe to the patient due to possible drug and herb interactions.

All of the things we take into our bodies have some effect. So besides questions on medications I ask about diet and I have spot for listing vitamins herbs and supplements that a person may be taking. These are not drugs but do have a (hopefully) positive effect on the patients well being. The interesting thing is that quite often patients will list specific foods or supplements under the medication section. This I feel reveals a lot about the way we think about the things we take into our bodies.

Patients view these supplements to their diet as medicine. Something that has a health benefit over and above the diet that they are eating. They know there is a difference between medications and supplements and yet they classify them as medicine. I do not see this as a incorrect way of thinking. I want my patients to pay attention to what they are taking.

I often ask, "You placed these supplements on the form as medicine, did you get as much professional advice before taking the supplements as you did before taking the prescribed medication?". This is an important question. If we look at various supplements as medicine, then we should also take as much time and care into the use of supplements as we do our medications.

We are easily lulled into the concept that if it is on the store shelf it is automatically safe, despite the fact that we all know that is not necessarily the case. Many times I have explained to a patient the function of each of the supplements they are taking. Often they realize that they were wasting their money or that the advice they got from the magazine article really did not apply to them and their particular situation.

The best advice is to always get your health advice from someone who not only knows the medicine but also knows your health history. Medications should be prescribed by a doctor. A nutritionist should look at your diet and nutraceuticals (vitamins, minerals, other compounds), and a herbalist is your best source on the proper use of herbs. This should be common sense.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066