The Truth About Natural Remedies
Can we be confident that natural remedies sold in pharmacies, supermarkets or health food stores can back up evidence to support their claims. Generally speaking when we are looking at natural remedies for “depression” we also need to have evidence to prove the products’ claims.
Unfortunately, when you look at labels on many depression products, many do not mention the word “depression”. Some products list symptoms linked to depression for which the product may be a useful remedy, such as “low mood”, and “feelings of sadness and/or tearfulness”.
Making a claim about testing or managing depression would be considered very strong and would need to have the highest level of evidence from clinical studies.
Many times this would involve considerable trouble and expense, and often from the company’s point of view, unnecessary. This is particularly so for many products where the benefits are widely known and consequently the company involved does not bother going to the extra expense. For example, St John’s Wort is commonly known as a natural treatment for anxiety symptoms.
Is there a Need for Tighter Legislation for Natural Remedies?
Unlike conventional medicine, complementary medicines have not traditionally been subjected to the same level of pre-market evaluation for effectiveness. The same holds true for post-market surveillance. This generally occurs randomly or when there is a problem with either a product or a manufacturer.
Could it be said that this lack of transparency would be unacceptable from manufacturers of conventional medicines? Could it be said, that if pharmaceutical companies were to deliberately withhold research findings and a serious health problem occurred, the company, when discovered would be financially ruined.
Scandal of the Thalidomide Drug – Could this Occur With Natural Remedies
Thalidomide first entered the German market in 1957 as an over-the-counter remedy as a sedative to cure anxiety and insomnia. It was advertised as ‘completely safe’ for everyone, including mothers, children and ‘even pregnancy’. Doctors discovered that it helped morning sickness and started recommending its use to pregnant mothers.
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s more than 10,000 infants in 46 countries were born with malformation of the limbs, 40% of these children surviving. The drug was finally banned in 1962. Consequently, a massive compensation payout by the company to the individuals followed.
At the time clinical trials did not require FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) approval. This tragedy helped develop great changes in the FDA. Today legislation has tightened the restrictions and approval for drugs sold in the US. Drug manufacturers now had to prove that they were both safe and effective before they were on the shelves.
Today drug approval can take between eight and twelve years, involving animal testing and tightly regulated human trials, although some argue that human testing is inadequate.
In 2004 the drug company Merck recalled the pain reliever Vioxx from the market because it was found to increase the risk of blood clots in patients. While evidence predicted these effects in 1996, the company chose not to conduct human trials on the drug because animal tests supported its safety. Because Vioxx remained on the market it is estimated that as many as 27,000 patients may have died.
A Need For Regulation in Natural Remedies is Essential
This is necessary if we do not want to see a repeat of these tragedies. In Australia the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) requires sponsors of listed medicines, including alternativel medicine, to hold evidence for claims and indications they make about their products. However, these companies have not actually had to produce it until someone asks.
Unfortunately the regulatory system is failing to adequately protect consumers. This also means that it also is failing to assist those companies who follow the correct guidelines.
Because I am a passionate believer in what natural therapies can do for your health, it is unfortunate that if natural alternative medicine is going to be taken seriously in the community, there needs to be proper, strict guidelines for genuine evidence.
Any substantial claims should be backed up with good quality scientific evidence based on clinical trials showing the product’s effectiveness. Regulations need to be strictly enforced so consumers know that we are buying natural remedies that are worth the money and cure what they say. We indeed do not want to see a repeat of the 1960’s Thalidomide tragedy, but this time, in the alternativel medicine market.