Sunday, December 18, 2016



Right now, herbs are "hot." Major companies are going herbal. The AMA (American Medical Association) is acknowledging the value of some herbs. Herbs are being featured in the cover stories of major magazines such as Time and Newsweek. Sales of herbs are well into the billions of dollars a year. This is a time for
herbalists and alternative healers to celebrate. Right?

  Not necessarily.

  While many in the alternative health community have fought for recognition from the medical establishment, personally, I have been very wary of it. And now that recognition has come, I believe we are about to pay the price.

What specifically is the problem? The answer lies in one word: "co-option" (definition: to take over an independent minority movement through assimilation into an established group or culture).


  Almost everyone now believes that standardized extracts are a good thing. They answer the medical community's need for predictable doses and effects. All of the top herbal manufacturers
now promote their use of standardized herbs. To a large degree, though, I believe, it's a red herring. I'm not a big fan of standardization. Let me explain.

  To understand what standardization means, let's take a look at orange juice. The orange juice you buy in the store, either in half gallon containers or frozen concentrate, is actually a great example
of a standardized herbal product (oranges fitting in the broad definition of herbs).[1] The manufacturers of these juice products have been able to identify the "active ingredients" of orange
juice that are primarily responsible for taste. In the case of orange juice, those key ingredients are sugar (sweetness) and acid (tartness). Now the way standardization works with orange juice is
that if a manufacturer finds that a batch of oranges is not sweet enough, they'll blend that batch with a much sweeter batch to bring it up to the "ideal" sweetness. If that same batch is too acidic,they'll blend it with a batch that's less acidic, until their testing shows it's reached just the right level of acidity. That's why each can or container of orange juice you buy tastes pretty much like the
one you bought the week before. That's standardization. So what's my problem?

    Have you ever tasted a can of frozen orange juice or juice from a container that even comes close to the taste of good fresh squeezed?[2] That's the problem. While standardization can make
one batch virtually identical to the next, it can never make any batch as good as really good non-standardized fresh squeezed. Why?

   The reason is simple. The taste of orange juice is governed by far more factors than sugar and acid. It is the result of the interplay of dozens and dozens of natural flavors, esters, and oils which are beyond the ability of any manufacturer to control. It is a symphony of taste—a symphony that we cannot duplicate by tweaking one or two "active" ingredients. (And, in fact, tweaking is actually often deleterious in the sense that it destroys the "natural" balance of all those flavors and esters that are not standardized.

   Maybe a better example is wine. Has anyone ever been able to guarantee in a laboratory the taste of the best wines? Of course not. The taste of the wine is the result of the soil the grapes are grown in and the temperature and rains that occur in a given year. Now here comes an important point. While it's true that the quality of wine at any vineyard may vary from year to year, is it not also true that the best vineyards consistently produce the best wines? Some years, a great vineyard may produce superb wine. The next year, the wine may only be outstanding or really good. But isn't it true that a great vineyard will almost always produce a better tasting wine than Ripple—a standardized wine, if you will?

   And that's the problem with standardization. It lowers the bar of what we can expect from herbal formulations. Standardized formulas will never match the quality (and healing power) of a
non-standardized formula made from the highest quality herbs because the standardized formula seeks to control one, two, or three "identified" active ingredients at the expense of all the other"active" ingredients that we don't yet know about. Standardization "distorts" plant synergy, and it disrupts the natural ratios of active ingredients inherent in the plant itself and replaces them with "arbitrary" ratios as determined by today's researchers.

   And then, of course, in addition to everything else, our attempt to identify active ingredients is fundamentally flawed. The procedure used is right out of standard drug testing:isolate individual chemical components and test their effects one at a time. If a particular biochemical from an herb tests as "non-active," we can eliminate it from standardization of that herb. But what if that component has a different value in the grand scheme of things? What if, although it may do nothing by itself, its presence makes another component twice as effective? What if....

[1 An herb being defined as "any of various often aromatic plants used especially in medicine or as seasoning."]

[2 Keeping in mind that there are people who actually prefer the taste of Sunny Delight] 

An obvious question has to be occurring to you right now: "If what I'm saying is true, then why is 'everybody' standardizing their herbs?" And the answer is that standardization is the herbalist's
answer to traditional medicine's complaint that herbs are unpredictable. Another way of saying this, which may be more illuminating, is that standardized extracts make herbs more like
drugs. But as we've just seen, herbs are not like drugs. Herbs are not single chemicals. They are a synergistic blend of natural compounds. Once you acknowledge this, the whole idea of standardization is revealed for what it is: co-option.

    So what's the alternative? Well, one thing that we do know about herbs, through centuries of use, is that high-quality herbs have great healing powers. We also know that well-grown herbs are consistently high in all active ingredients—those that we can identify, and those that we won't know about for another hundred years. The bottom line, then, is that if you must guarantee something, then why not:

> Use high-quality herbs with their natural ratios of ingredients. This means, of course, that you can't "doctor up" poor quality herbs as you can with standardization.

> Guarantee a minimum level for all active ingredients (as we know them today).

  This alternative provides all of the advantages of standardization, and none of the negatives.

     An Interesting Development

   Several companies are taking standardization to the next level by running herbs through the same lab tests that prescription medicines must pass—called bioassays—to uncover just what biologically active ingredients they contain. Using certain test-tube experiments, for example, they can test whether chemicals interact with the brain pathways involved in depression. If the experiments
measure a response, that chemical is biologically active. Already, these companies claim that their new testing process has discovered that there are some five active ingredients that may help St. John's Wort ease depression—not the single ingredient, hypericin, which is currently the target of standardization.

   These companies are also looking to contract with supplement manufacturers to "guarantee" their herbal products. American Home Products, for example, has already begun marketing a series
of specially tested herbs under its popular Centrum supplement brand.

   And finally, these companies also plan to seek FDA approval to sell the most effective herbs as prescription drugs. This will allow doctors to sell, for a higher price of course, a "fully tested medicine version" of the same herbs you currently buy in the health store.
There are four fundamental problems I see with this whole process:

1. First, as we've already alluded to, no testing process in the world can test for the synergistic factor of all the biochemical components in herbs. No testing process can determine if a compound, even though it may not be biologically active itself, serves to increase the biological activity of another compound. That's why no testing process can match the skill of the professional herbalist (just as it cannot come close to matching the palate of the professional wine
taster) in determining the effectiveness of an herb.

2. It reinforces the paradigm of herbs as drugs (that is for symptom X, take herb Y) and puts herbal medicine in the hands of doctors (who, as a rule, have no understanding of herbal medicine) and takes it out of the hands of the herbal professionals.

3. It actually leads to the classification of herbs as drugs, as both companies are already looking to do.

4. It totally ignores the other aspects of herbal quality.

   Interestingly enough, this is not a new idea. We've gone down this road before—with disastrous consequences. The modern drug industry, as we know it today, was created out of herbal medicine. (The word "drug" itself actually comes from the old German word "droge," which was used to describe the process of "drying" herbs in preparation for use.) The apparent motive behind the development of pharmaceuticals was to create purer, more potent, and more effective "medicines." Unfortunately, as we now know, the net result was, in many cases, just the oppositeless
effective medicines with a whole range of deadly side effects. Pharmaceuticals, however, do offer one major advantage over herbs. They are patentable, and as such, generate billions and billions of dollars in profits for the companies that manufacture them—and the medical system that distributes them.

    Herb Quality

   Ninety-nine percent of the herbs used by American companies do not come from the US. They are imported from Eastern Europe and from many third-world countries such as India, China, and Mexico.

   Unfortunately, these countries use large amounts of insecticides and pesticides in the growing of their herbs. DDT is still commonly used in Asia and Mexico, whereas organo-phosphate nervegas
based insecticides are commonly used throughout Eastern Europe.

   It's also worth noting that most of the areas in which these herbs are grown in these countries are heavily polluted. The herbs are inundated by polluted rain and irrigated by polluted rivers. In
Eastern Europe, for example, there have been no environmental laws for decades. Rivers have been used as open sewers. Everything from chemical toxic waste to radioactive waste—no
joke—has been dumped into these rivers.

  The reason most American companies use these herb sources, regardless of the problems just mentioned, is that they are cheap. Good quality organic and wildcrafted herbs cost as much as 20
times more. Before you use any company's herbal formulations, you should learn where their herbs come from.

      Herbal Preparation

    There are a number of ways herbs can be prepared. In increasing order of potency, they are: 

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