Herbal Burble

An article about the implications of the 2005 EU Directive on medicinal herbs and natural compounds, which takes effect from May 1st 2011.

(Chris Woollams; CANCERactive) On May 1st 2011 the Health Market in the UK will change dramatically. The reason is the EUs 2005 Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive.

Now, I have read various reports on this mess and even one suggesting it may not be allowed in the UK by a UK Government that will stand up to the EU. Most reports are very passionate and often quite opinionated, but I wanted to explain what seems to be going to happen and how it is going to negatively impact on the health of every person reading this.

Background

The idea behind the original directive was that some Herbs are clearly used as medicines and it would be a good idea to have them regulated thus recording their benefits and their side-effects. There is, in the EUs Orthodox Medical eyes, little difference between a ten year-old synthetic manufactured drug and a natural, five thousand year-old medicinal herb. Just because it is natural, doesnt mean it is safe, say the critics. So they both should be regulated.

However, even though this Directive (law to us mere mortals) has been known to be coming for 6 full years, as is all too common with the EU, the whole thing is a mess from start to finish and, I believe, will result in chaos (and mischief) after May 1st , to your detriment.

A Herbal Medicines

Clearly, herbs have been used as medicines for thousands of years. Hampton Court in the Middle Ages was not surrounded by rose gardens but by herb gardens. They were regularly eaten to ward off dangers (sage and onion kill harmful bacteria inside chickens and so the chicken was stuffed in this way), and herbs were taken as medicine (oregano oil was often taken to kill infections).

But talk to a Medical Herbalist in the UK and he will describe all plants as herbs, even a mushroom or an orange. They may be foods to you but they all have health benefits! After all it was Hippocrates who said let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.

And so you have a spectrum: From herbs that are only used medicinally, like astragalus and wormwood at one end, to oranges and mushrooms as Food Herbs at the other. The Directive supposedly only covers Medicinal Herbs, however, the EU Department issuing the Directive have not spelled out what is, and what is not, included.

There is a list of some 2000 plus herbs in some other EU department, which has these medicinal herbs at one end, and food herbs at the other. But the Directive is not bound by this list.

Confused? It gets worse.

The problem is two fold
 (i) The herbs in the middle. Take for example Turmeric, or curcumin. This is a spice and a common food on one hand but research in America shows it having huge potential with microbes in the gut and cancers such as colon cancer. Research has shown clearly that it possess anti-cancer properties. There is also research on its benefits to stop plaque forming in the brain leading to dementia and Alzheimers. As a food, you will be able to buy it after May 1st. The second it is concentrated and put in a pill format, it can be argued that it is now a medicinal herb. No one is currently saying it will need to be prescribed, but does anyone want to bet that will not eventually become the case?

You may feel this is a bit extreme or negative. But dubbing everyday foods as medicines is actually already happening.

Let me tell you about a UK Professor who, in working with newly diagnosed Prostate cancer patients, felt that broccoli and tomatoes plus exercise definitely delayed the need for treatment. Seeking to prove this, he was told he would need to give patients clearly defined amounts of each food, with a second control group thinking they were taking the real thing but not doing so! So he went off to dry broccoli and tomatoes and put them into a pill. No, you cannot do that, came the voice of authority. Drying broccoli and tomatoes and making a pill constitutes a medicine and you must get a qualified drug company to prepare it for you. Needless to say, no drug company would.

And so hundreds of thousands of prostate patients will never be told by their oncologist to take broccoli and tomatoes (and exercise), thus delaying the need for treatment by a couple of years. Instead surgeons will operate, drugs will be prescribed and both you and the Government coffers will be worse off.

 (ii) No natural compound is ultimately safe. Recently, I covered research in Cancer Watch that showed significantly better results came from taking fish oils regularly than from eating oily fish. The reason given was the concentration of long-chain omega-3 in the pill was higher than you would receive from the fish alone.

Leeds University have also researched omega-3 on colon polyps. As with our broccoli and tomato professor, they had to have a drug prepared of a concentrated omega-3. It performed extremely well preventing the recurrence of polyps in an at-risk group colon cancer group.

Now consider all the recent discoveries that I talk about in my book, The Rainbow Diet. Indole-3-carbinol, resveratrol, beta-glucan from mushrooms etc; natural compounds that can help reduce your oestrogen levels, neutralise harmful chemicals like dioxins in the body, boost your immune system and so on.

If you eat an herbal food called a grape skin, you ingest some resveratrol, (the concentration declines the more pesticide was used). If you extract the resveratrol, concentrate it and put it into a pill, some European Bureaucrat, Trading Standards, whoever, may well come after you. You have constructed a medicine. Think Im joking? Well in America, eating Chicken cartilage was found to help arthritis sufferers. So someone bought a load of carcases, ground down the cartilage and tried to sell it. Over twenty years ago, the authorities immediately stopped him. You have made a drug, and you are not registered to do so!

The Herbal Medicines Directive is, in my opinion, the thin end of this wedge. The naughtiness of people more influenced by profit than health will run amok with this poorly thought through and defined Directive and will ultimately use it to crush your use of all Natural Compounds.

You may only be left with synthetic alternatives you know, the ones research shows dont do you much good, and even have side-effects. Arguably, even foods are not safe the second you concentrate them, to multiply their benefits. What a mess.

B Chinese, Indian (Ayurveda) and other remedies

After May 1st 2011, all unregistered herbal medicines sold direct to the patient (internet, health store, etc) become ILLEGAL.

They have absolutely no exemption just because they have been used for 5000 years and are a part of a continuing, historic culture. To date, I am reliably informed, no Chinese or Ayurvedic herbs have been registered.

C Registration?
The registration criteria came, in part, from the criteria used for orthodox medicines - rather like judging a Derby Winner by whether it can jump fences. Registration costs money that some of the suppliers just dont have. And others have just been slow or ignorant. To date only about 180 product applications have been received for registration. Possibly 4,000 or more herbs and herbal complexes are currently available in the UK. After May 2011, the unregistered cannot be supplied to you unless, after consultation, the herbalist sitting in front of you is qualified to prepare them from scratch for you.
So now you can see the magnitude and the effect this will have. Thousands of herbs and herbal formulae will become illegal.

D Is there any way I can get hold of the herbs I want?
The original Directive talked about having a Doctor to prescribe them. The people who decided on the Directive have clearly never visited a UK General Practitioner. My Doctor thinks herbs come in cellophane packets and are sold in Sainsbury or Tesco. One problem is that UK Doctors are tethered to computer screens telling them what drugs to dish out its called Best Practice. No herb would ever appear on these screens. Another of the problems here is that a couple of people leading the Directive had German roots and in German there are all manner of people called Herr Doktor, some who specialise in herbs.

So, clearly, the UK is going to have to have a different system to the rest of the EU or no one will ever again be prescribed a herb.

The possible equivalent to the German Herbal Doktor is the fully trained and qualified UK Medical Herbalist. Do you know how to find one? It isnt at all easy.

E Regulating the Herbalists

However, despite ten years of asking, the UK Government and Health Authorities have singularly failed to grant statutory regulation authorising these experts in herbal medicine. That ended with a promise on February 16th to introduce regulation in 2012.

Why was this so important? Without statutory regulation - a seal of approval for the courses Herbalists have taken and the expertise they have acquired several alternative scenarios could occur. Firstly, none of the existing herbalists might be allowed to prescribe herbs following the Directive; they are, after all, not Doctors as stated in the Directive. Alternatively, anybody, with any old herbal course behind them, might set themselves up as a herbal practitioner and just keep supplying without a detailed in-depth knowledge of the benefits, the side-effects and/or how to properly prepare a medicinal herb. Currently herbalist credentials vary from full blown courses overseen, for example, by practising traditional herbalists from the Cornish based Faculty of Herbal Medicine, (IRCH), to weekend retreats which offer paper qualifications only. Herbal Colleges such as IRCH with sound herbal qualifications also offer ongoing training requiring CPDs and run members registers with stricts codes of conduct. 

On February 16th UK Medical Herbalists got the official tick; in 2012 a UK law will be passed ensuring standards are set for the education of herbalists. Meanwhile all herbalists trained to all levels may continue to practice (of course, this is not necessarily a good thing). 

Secondly, part of this ultimate statutory regulation will encompass the making of herbal mixtures. At the moment some herbalists have their own dispensaries; they make their own potions. But standards may well vary.

Next, many herbalists have to be supplied with their potions, not having their own dispensaries. Ultimately they, like you, will only be able to choose from the 180 registered herbal mixes, whereas the herbalist who makes his own can provide a far wider range.

With the Feb 16th tick, all herbalists will temporarily be allowed to continue to buy their herbs from third party dispensaries.

But, ultimately, with the EU Directive in force, medicinal herbs may be prescribed to you only after a one-on-one, face-to-face consultation. Of course this immediately puts up patient costs. (When did the EU ever reduce your outgoings?)

The small number of true medicinal herb experts who want to make their own herbal potions also clearly need a code of practice to do so and that comes back to the 2012 UK statutory regulation. How do you best provide astragalus or echinacea? In alcohol, or not?

So, finally the issue will become who trains the next generation of Herbalists? There is no single Herbalist faction in the UK, but several different groups. Moreover, hitherto, Herbalism has been passed down; practicing experts training the newcomers. But in future the statutory regulation may well result in teachers in Universities running degree courses from books. Herbalism is not simply about knowledge but also patient contact. Will bodies like the NIMH have to cede power to University administrators?

Meanwhile, until all this comes in, we are all in limbo, caught between a Directive demanding that Doctors prescribe, and UK regulations playing catch up.

The ultimate danger to your health is polarisation: While Doctors are simply becoming pharmacists, Medical herbalists themselves could be an endangered species, with it harder and harder to prescribe herbs, and even natural compounds that are concentrates of certain foods.

What a mess!

Double Standards and your loss of free choice

I just received an important press release from a hospital announcing pioneering work using Interleukin to boost the cancer patients own immune systems. After a couple of months 25 per cent of the patients, who all had serious kidney cancer, were in remission. (The press release didnt say for how long this had lasted, or might last in the future). The treatment was also described as aggressive and not for everyone. Only a year ago, another hospital professor was describing NICEs decision not to provide 4 advanced kidney drugs as damaging because all that left was Interferon, which doesnt work that well anyway. Interferon boosts the patients immune system too.

Aggressive; Doesnt work?!

Herbs like Cats Claw, Echinacea, Astragalus, Turmeric and others will all boost a patients immune system. Naturally. Moreover, in a way that doesnt just prompt an increase in the numbers of white cells, but also helps identify the rogue cells more clearly. There are particular herbs that boost interferon levels too.

The scare-mongers state that Just because it is natural, doesnt mean it is safe and, of course this is correct. But I am convinced this Directive will result in a complete mess at best and, at worse, in a serious loss to people trying to prevent or beat a disease.

It is also the epitome of Double Standards.

As we know Drugs are not without side-effects. In states like Florida, taking a cocktail of drugs, polypharmacy, is now the number 1 cause of death. In New Yorks Presbyterian Hospital, taking a cocktail of drugs is the cause of 28 per cent of all admissions!! I havent read these sorts of figures for herbs anywhere.

Why? Because they have been around in our lives for thousands of years. We have evolved with them. We know the plants that are dangerous, and the ones that help. Herbalists also know which ones inter-react.

Drugs are, of course regulated. A Clinical Trial may well show the benefits and side-effects of a drug. But many drugs are tested on thirty-somethings who are healthy (weve all heard the radio ads) while they are actually used by 78 year olds who are ill. Worse, in the studies on polypharmacy, some elderly people were being prescribed 13 drugs! What regulation controls the prescribing of such cocktails of drugs?

Then, in two months time you will not be able to buy a herbal medicine in a High Street store but you will be able to buy a synthetically-generated food that has never been independently tested for a prolonged period or even near the normal Statutory UK Government Food Regulations that all new foods go through. You may refer to these as GM foods. Changing the genetic code of corn, potatoes or soya may be clever science; but it may not be clever health. Who knows? Certainly not the Health Regulators who are restricting Herbs because of their possible dangers. They are not even allowed to regulate GM foods.

Of course, GM foods may not cause health problems or kill people after all. Drugs may be potentially dangerous but they are regulated in that you cannot simply buy them in a shop in the High Street. This is what the Health bodies are trying to do. Protect you from danger.

As you walk out of your health food store leaving the empty shelves behind, you will, of course, find it all too easy to buy a pack of cigarettes next door. Known to damage your health, the Government Health bodies warn they can even kill you. But importantly someone in this crazy world believes you should have the freedom of choice to buy and smoke a cigarette but not the freedom of choice to buy and take astragalus.

Cigarettes bring the Government billions of pounds every day in tax revenue. The alternative to astragalus is an expensive drug, which has side-effects and does not always work.

Go figure!

Herbal Burble
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