The marketing of today’s wonder drugs, on which the pharmaceutical industry spends an estimated $4 billion a year, includes warnings about the potentially sinister side effects of those medications. The chilling disclaimers are found in the very fine print of magazine advertisements for the latest cholesterol inhibitor, or in the rapid-fire voice-over about side effects heard over and over again in TV ad spots touting pills for heart burn or insomnia.
For example, a popular sleep aid medication starkly warns of side effects including drowsiness, dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting, hallucinations, muscle aches and pains and even addictive dependency. Pretty tough trade off for good night’s sleep… even if the side effects are “rare and usually temporary,” as the disclaimer says. Sleep through the night, have hallucinations and diarrhea all day?
Or, consider the popular drugs that promise a cure for erectile dysfunction, yet warn of side effects including headaches, facial flushing, upset stomach, and bluish or blurred vision. Imagine a good time becoming the “right time,” followed by, “Yeah, Honey, I’m ready. But, not tonight. I’ve got a headache, stomach ache, and, come to think of it, you look distorted and a little blue around the edges right now.”
But other, out-of-the-mainstream treatments are a much different story. For years, I was skeptical of non-traditional medications such as homeopathic tinctures and ointments sold primarily at New Age health food and vitamin stores. I reasoned, if they were really effective, they would have been prescribed over the years by Western medical doctors. Doctors didn’t prescribe or recommend them, so I wasn’t interested. I just stayed with those traditional pills churned out by the American pharmaceutical industry.
Then, some time ago, in response to my complaints of shoulder pain due to some old sports injuries, a friend suggested I try a popular topical homeopathic cream. I used it and marveled at the relief it afforded in a relatively short time. In fact, I have used it off and on ever since.
After using the cream for several years, I finally read the pharmacological information sheet enclosed in the package and was even more impressed with this unique product. It’s all natural, a formulation of 12 botanical substances, including several common flowers like marigold, daisy, milfoil, and even deadly nightshade (Bella-donna). The minerals contained in the cream are calcium sulfide and, amazingly, “soluble mercury.”
The flyer candidly admits no one seems to understand how it works: “The exact mechanism of action of Traumeel is not fully understood.” The flyer goes on to reassure users that, “It does not appear to be the result of cyclooxygenase or lipoxgenase enzyme inhibition.” As my eyes glazed over, I felt a profound sense of relief at this apparent good news. Whew, I thought, that’s a relief, sure don’t want any cyclooxygenase inhibition in my life!
Further reassurance came with the explanation that the ointment “appears to be the result of the modulation of the release of oxygen radicals from activated neutrophils and inhibition of the release of inflammatory mediators from activated macrophages and neuropeptides.” Wow! All that apparently great news (whatever it means) from a botanical mixture — now that’s real flower power.
But the best news came in the section of the information flyer entitled “Precautions.” This is where virtually all American pharmaceuticals broadcast the standard litany of dire FDA-required warnings about horrible side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, high-blood pressure, constipation, and other forms of gastrointestinal disaster.
Maybe it’s because homeopathic remedies haven’t been scrutinized by the FDA, but they are free of those frightening precautions: “Adverse effects with this product are extremely rare. This product exhibits no known adverse renal, hepatic, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, or central nervous system effects…. This product is generally well tolerated.” What a refreshing contrast with the wide array of potential side effects from most American pharmaceuticals.
Modern Western medicine truly is a marvel. Transplants, implants, bypasses, joint replacements, and the broad smorgasbord of designer prescription drugs, really are medical miracles. But, as we pay our respects to the remarkable achievements on the frontiers of Western medicine, let’s leave room for wonderment over the old, tried-and-true remedies as well. Let’s salute the art of the Native American medicine man, the African witch doctor, and the practitioners of acupuncture and herbal remedies who have plied their trades for thousands of years.
Take acupuncture, for example. Archeologists have established that the ancient art of acupuncture has been practiced in China for at least 4,000 years. It’s still flourishing and has developed a rapidly growing following in this country over the past few decades. Similarly, homeopathic medicine finds its roots in the writings of Hippocrates 2400 years ago, and its European origin was in 18th century Germany. Based on the sustained longevity of those time-honored practices, one suspects that there just might be something to them. And, without the side effects.