When we think about medicine, we usually think about pills that we pick up from the pharmacy – but pills aren’t the only form of medicine. Natural drugs can be more effective than anything developed in a lab, so here are the things you need to know.
The Three Types Of Drugs
Most of the medicines we use fall into three categories.
- Natural: Natural drugs are almost untouched by human hands (aside from things like harvesting and shipment), and require no processing to show their benefits. For example, scurvy (caused by a Vitamin C deficiency) can be fought by eating citrus fruits like oranges.
- Natural Product Derivative: NPD drugs are taken from natural products, but are usually concentrated into a more useful form. The most notable example of this is penicillin – not everyone is interested in eating fungi, and even if they were, the fact that fungi need to be grown makes it harder to use. Concentrating the bacteria-fighting chemicals into an oral pill or an injection is both easy and effective – and its saved millions of lives.
- New Chemical Entity: A new chemical is one that’s entirely synthesized in a lab. It may be based on an existing chemical structure, but the chemical itself is not found in nature.
Why Use Natural Alternatives?
In many cases, natural alternatives are healthier and have fewer side-effects than drugs that were developed in a lab. Think about the last drug ad you saw on television – you probably watched a happy, feel-good video clip while the announcer mentioned a long list of uncomfortable or even dangerous side effects.
Many natural drugs don’t have side-effects – and even when they do, those side effects are almost never as severe as what many new chemical entities have demonstrated. To put it another way, our bodies are better at using natural substances than artificial ones.
How Effective Are Natural Drugs?
The effectiveness of natural drugs varies, but most of them have effects that are reliable and predictable. To go back to our earlier example, scurvy is easy to treat (and prevent) as long as you regularly consume foods that provide Vitamin C.
Other natural drugs that have proven their effectiveness include various herbs, fish (particularly for omega-3 fatty acids), and even aspirin (which originally came from the willow tree but is now largely synthesized).
How Expensive Are Natural Drugs?
Natural drugs often cost less than lab-synthesized products. There are several reasons for this.
First, natural drugs are relatively easy to test and obtain. For example, fish are already a part of many people’s diets, and they’re supported by an entire fishing industry dedicated to providing the freshest fish possible to as many markets as they can reach. We need to eat anyway, and it’s not hard to get many natural drugs onto our plates.
Second, it’s difficult to patent and monopolize natural substances. The court case Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, 569 U.S. 12 (2013) decided that isolated DNA that had the same sequence as found in nature could not be patented. In response, the United States Patent and Trademark Office determined that chemicals derived from natural sources, foods, metals, minerals, natural materials, nucleic acids, organisms, proteins, peptides, and any other substance found in or derived from nature were unlikely to be something that could be patented.
Without a patent, it’s easy for companies to start manufacturing and selling their version of a product. This promotes competition and reduces cost.
Finally, people can grow some natural drugs – completely legally. Herbs are by far the most common form of this, and indeed, fresh herbs often demonstrate better effects than dried versions.
How Quickly Do Natural Drugs Work?
That depends entirely on what they’re being used to treat. Some natural drugs (or products derived from natural substances) take effect as soon as the body begins to digest them. This is common with any natural drug that’s been processed into a pill form, such as aspirin.
Other natural drugs may take as long as several weeks to start showing their effects. This occurs most often with natural drugs consumed as part of a healthy diet.
Are Any Natural Drugs Dangerous?
Yes. Natural drugs are just like synthetic drugs in that taking too much can be dangerous. How much is too much depends on the drug in question. For example, it’s almost impossible to overdose on Vitamin C unless you’re deliberately trying to – the maximum recommended intake per-day is 2000 mg, while the recommended is just 65-90 mg. Any extra is just flushed out of the body.
In contrast, any sassafras drug is no longer recommended (and, indeed, has been banned by the FDA) because of its known carcinogenic properties. Aside from the potential to cause cancer, sassafras is also known to cause stupor, hallucinations, vomiting, dermatitis, diaphoresis, and even abortions.
Sassafras can be used to treat insect bites or create aromatic teas, but that doesn’t mean it should be. Other, less-dangerous alternatives are available.
The key point to understand here is that the type of drugs you use should be based on your actual medical needs.
Natural drugs are often quite effective, but that doesn’t mean they are always the best choice. Other natural substances may work better – and in some cases, your doctor may recommend something synthetic instead.