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The role of herbalism in preventative medicine

  • Dr. Amparo Aracil
    Dr. Amparo Aracil

    Amparo is a medical herbalist and doctor interested in community herbalism and acute medicine. Amparo combines their work as a herbalist with working as a doctor, previously for the NHS and now in both primary care and A&E in Spain. Amparo has also worked with Herbalists Without Borders Calais providing first aid and herbal medicine to migrants and refugees. Having a special interest in psychoneuroimmunology and auto-immune conditions, they have extensive clinical experience helping people with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disorders.

    Amparo has been involved with writing lectures and teaching clinical skills for Heartwood students, and runs student clinics on a monthly basis.

    Amparo is a registered member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and the General Medical Council. You can find more about them at their website.

  • 10:52 reading time (ish)
  • Western Herbal Medicine

Through the immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and metabolic regulatory effects of medicinal plants, herbalism offers valuable tools for promoting health and preventing illness.

The role of herbalism in preventative medicine

Herbal medicine has been a fundamental component of healthcare systems across cultures for centuries. From ancient China and India to indigenous and traditional cultures in Africa and the Americas, herbal remedies have been integral to promoting health and preventing illness (1). In recent years, there has been a notable interest in holistic and natural approaches to healthcare, with herbalism emerging as a prominent contender in the realm of preventative medicine (1,2). Herbal medicine can offer a wealth of benefits for maintaining health and preventing illness. Plants have been used for their medicinal properties since ancient times, and their role in disease prevention is arguably more significant than ever. 

In recent decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in herbal medicine, driven by factors such as dissatisfaction with pharmaceuticals, concerns about adverse effects, and a growing appreciation for holistic and individualised approaches to health (2). Moreover, advances in scientific research have shed light on the biochemical mechanisms underlying the therapeutic effects of many medicinal plants, validating their traditional uses, and providing insights into their potential applications in disease prevention (3).

Herbalism is a holistic practice that acknowledges the interconnectedness of the body and mind. Rather than simply targeting isolated symptoms, herbal remedies work to restore balance and harmony within the body, addressing underlying imbalances that may contribute to disease (4). This holistic approach not only treats existing health problems, but it can also strengthen the body’s natural defences, helping to prevent future illness and promote overall well-being. 

Another strength of herbalism lies in its ability to offer personalised treatment plans tailored to individual needs (5). Herbalists consider a person’s unique constitution, lifestyle, and health goals when selecting appropriate herbs and formulations. By considering the whole person, and by being able to choose herbs that take into account individual needs, herbalism can offer a comprehensive and effective approach to preventative medicine (6).

When compared to many pharmaceutical medications, herbal remedies typically have fewer adverse effects and are generally well-tolerated. This is because plants contain a complex combination of compounds that work synergistically to produce therapeutic effects, often in lower concentrations than synthetic drugs (2). As a result, herbalism offers a gentler alternative for preventative care, reducing the risk of unwanted side effects commonly associated with conventional medications. For example, one of the well-known side effects of the anti-inflammatory drug acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) is stomach ulcers. Aspirin was synthesised from salicylic acid containing herbs like meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) (7). Meadowsweet not only has anti-inflammatory properties partly due to this phytochemical, but it does not cause stomach ulcers. In fact, it is used to treat digestive complaints (8). This is likely due to the synergistic action of all the constituents found in meadowsweet.

Plants contain bioactive phytochemicals including flavonoids, alkaloids, and terpenes, which have been found to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immune-modulating effects. Medicinal plants containing these phytochemicals and many others, can help to improve immune function, reduce oxidative stress, and protect against chronic diseases (8).

Herbal medicine can play a role in disease prevention through different mechanisms.

Dr. Amparo Aracil

Amparo is a medical herbalist and doctor interested in community herbalism and acute medicine. Amparo combines their work as a herbalist with working as a doctor, previously for the NHS and now in... Read more

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