Plants vs. Chemicals – Natural is not always better

Patients often opt for “natural” medicine alternatives because they believe that pharmaceuticals contain dangerous chemicals that will harm them in the long run. One tends to forget that absolutely everything is a chemical compound. A chemical compound consists of two or more different atoms binding together. Two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom will create water.

The idea of “chemicals are always bad” has been a marketing tactic in various industries for years. Although it has merit, it does not absolve plants from the list completely, and should not condemn all pharmaceuticals either. This pretty poppy flower pictured above, is responsible for great leaps in medicine, and also some of the deadliest addictions known to mankind.

Pain medication

We tend to forget, that most medication , such as basic pain management, is plant derivative. Opium, morphine, heroin and codeine are all made from milky latex found in the seed capsule of the opium poppy. The non-narcotic seeds are used as bird feed and seasoning in bakery products.

The bark of the Salix Alba, a weeping willow tree, was used in folk medicine to treat pain and fever. That tree led to the discovery of aspirin and salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is used most in skincare products for management of inflamed acne.

Homeopathic medicine

Echinacea and Gingko Biloba is used as buzzwords. Homeopathic medicine has little chance of side effects because it is kept in its most natural state, chemically. Homeopathic medicine can however have undesired effects.

Echinacea is contraindicated in patients with any autoimmune diseases like HIV or Lupus. It can help to trigger your immune system’s fighting response. Autoimmune diseases can cause a person’s immune response to be in overdrive, so ingredients that triggers the immune system may be the opposite of what they may need.


There is less pressure on homeopathic medicine to be tested for its efficiency in treating the conditions they are mainly used for. This is because it is thought of as “food in a capsule form” as medicine, with few side effects.

However, medicine that are produced in laboratories by modifying the chemical structure or combining ingredients are scrutinised heavily. This is because we know that some chemicals can be contraindicated. We know that acetylcysteine will thin out your mucus and liquify it. Pseudoephedrine constricts the nasal blood vessels, allowing more space for air to pass through your nose and this dries up the mucus. This means that two medicines used when one has a head cold, namely ACC200 and Sinutab is contraindicated and will effectively work against each other.

Every medication has to show that it effectively treats the condition it is intended for, and that its dosage can be managed to do as little harm as possible. Extensive testing is done, and it will state on the informational leaflet what the medication is indicated for, with clear, concise language: “This product is indicated for the treatment of pain and inflammation.”

Homeopathic medicine will not have this same standard of testing, it will often use ambiguous language that can absolve it from liability: “This product may aid in fighting cold and flu symptoms.”

We also tend to forget that there are many plants in nature that are poisonous or toxic to humans. Some plants like the Kava, is used as a dietary supplement to treat anxiety. In 2002, it was linked to severe liver damage, whereby four patients needed to have liver transplants. Later on, it was suggested that the form in which it is taken, will determine its level of toxicity. It is made from the roots of the plant, and can be given in a powder or capsule form, or even made into a drink. It is thought that when used with alcohol, it becomes exponentially more dangerous. Unfortunately, Kava extract is often produced by steeping it in alcohol for a few weeks.

Always speak to your doctor or pharmacist before you start taking any medication, homeopathic or otherwise. Make sure to disclose any chronic conditions you may have, as well as any existing medication you are taking.

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