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Why is herbal research important?

Posted by eric_oh 6a (My Page) on
Sun, Aug 10, 14 at 11:27

A viewpoint sometimes seen in this forum is that traditional uses and anecdotes involving herbs are all-important, and that rigorous research into safety and efficacy of herbal products is unnecessary or even undesirable.

The authors of this article in a complementary medicine journal feel research is vital, especially if herbal medicinal products (HMPs) are to be used to tackle chronic diseases.

"Thus far, clinical trials on HMPs have provided a rather indefinite and even bleak view about their therapeutic benefits. However, it is quite possible that the current gold standard, a placebo-controlled randomized double-blinded trial, is unable to provide a relevant outcome about medicines that are primarily intended for personalized and holistic use, as is the case with Chinese herbal medicines. Nonetheless, the FP7 GP-TCM project has agreed on a guideline on randomized controlled clinical trials of Chinese herbal medicines, which should serve as a plausible starting point for further development."

The authors don't explain just why they think herbal drugs might be exempt from established guidelines for drug development, and gloss over problems associated with complex herbal mixtures (they describe chemical compounds with opposing actions in a single herbal drug, for instance). But at least they do recognize that research will be vital in finding out just which products may be beneficial.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Why is herbal research important?

"medicines that are primarily intended for personalized and holistic use,"

In other words ... the results aren't predictable or reliable and we haven't a clue what they are really doing.

If it is going to be called "medicine" the action has to be predictable ... otherwise you are rolling dice with your patients.

RE: Why is herbal research important?

I'm not sure what the authors meant by "personalized" use, unless they were referring to a process of evaluating each recipient (by genetic testing, for instance) to determine what herbal drug(s) would be effective. That process hasn't even gotten off the ground yet in alt med, and it would still be necessary to validate such testing in controlled studies.

Declaring that placebo-controlled double-blind studies of herbal meds may be "unable to provide a relevant outcome" comes across as a form of special pleading.

This post was edited by eric_oh on Sun, Aug 10, 14 at 15:12

RE: Why is herbal research important?

It's strange how often these topics turn to the usage of Latin rhetoric. It's almost as if there was no ability to debate based on the knowledge of the topic and focus in on context.

In any case, to call that a form of [special pleading], you would be avoiding the fact that expecting a researcher who is experienced in only mainstream medicine to conduct a study on herbals, or worse, an expert in allopathic medicine to properly deal with homeopathic medicine, is the usage of an [argument from misleading authority] since they're both completely out of their respective fields.

This is why people often consider the anecdotes of those more or less new to alternative medicine to be much more useful than those biased towards modern medicine.

RE: Why is herbal research important?

"Latin rhetoric"? What on earth does that mean?

I think you misunderstand what "special pleading" is. Despite claims to the contrary, there is no form of alt med that cannot be researched using tools similar to those employed in studying mainstream medicine. Acupuncture, for instance, has been studied using retractible needles that touch but do not actually puncture the skin, though the patient can't tell the difference. It's been shown that "sham" acupuncture works as well as the "real" thing, signifying that any positive results are likely due to placebo effects.

Bottom line is that no one is exempted from the rules of scientific inquiry on the basis that their woo is not subject to real world measurements.

Nothing in alt med is so mysterious that mainstream researchers are unqualified to study it. Scientific research is open to (and used/misused by) practitioners and advocates of various kinds of alt med, including homeopaths, acupuncturists, naturopaths and so on. A lot of these people take refuge in limited and poorly conducted research that purports to show a remedy works. When the flaws of such research are challenged, these practitioners often try to have it both ways, arguing that their methods cannot be accurately studied and appreciated by conventional means.

That's special pleading.

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