With pharmaceutical companies spending millions on advertising, it's no wonder everyone knows about the latest fix, the latest cure. But natural products, which many report have less side-effects and do more good, are often shrouded in mystery and, unfortunately, cynicism.
The cynics view natural medicines as ineffective, a case of mind-over-matter. But the reality is that the entire pharmaceutical industry has its roots in natural medicine. Nature intended us to find cures and remedies and this has been done for centuries.
Doryce Sher, founder of Aromatic Apothecary and a registered pharmacist who manufactures aromatherapy products that are easy and safe to use, says, "Natural substances do need to be approached with respect and knowledge, which is why it is good to find an accredited natural healthcare product manufacturer or practitioner".
"Working with nature's medicines requires extensive knowledge. For example, some natural substances that are medicinal can be used as medicines but if used incorrectly are poisonous, like arsenic, belladona and digitalis, also known as foxglove."
In these cases, it's all about the dosage form and the dosage quantity. “A little cures what a lot may kill“ is a general rule applicable to natural substances.
In addition, a natural substance may be healing if used topically, but may prove toxic if swallowed. This is true of Belladonna, which is healing on the skin, but poisonous if taken internally.
Aromatherapy oils are another example of natural substances that can be curative or harmful depending on how they are used, and in what quantities.
Doryce says "Tea tree oil is a wonderful oil that can be used to treat a skin infection. But it needs to be used with common sense. If you use it all the time, you'll kill all the “good” bacteria and create an imbalance."
"So look for products that are are responsibly labeled with indications and dosages as well as any warnings," she recommends.
With commercially available natural or herbal medicines there is a duty by the supplier and manufacture to ensure safe and effective delivery of the natural substance.
In South Africa, the past fifteen years have seen the natural medicines industry grow enormously as people have begun to educate themselves on the pros and cons of the pharmaceuticals they're taking. The natural industry has almost become self regulating via HPA – Health Products Association - which promotes correct information and responsible production and distribution of natural medicines, with an emphasis on safety, quality and efficacy.