There has been quite a bit of buzz over the past few decades concerning using “natural” remedies as a more affordable option for treating common illnesses and ailments.  While I won’t even try to go into which cures work, which won’t, and which are just a bunch of hype, there are a few rough guidelines you can use to help you find treatments that are appropriate for you.  (Note: Unless you have certainty about what ails you, don’t try to self-diagnose.  A doctor’s advice is valuable, and he or she can often point you in the direction of the right natural remedy for you.)

Alternative medicine
Creative Commons License photo credit: dbz885

What is “Natural?”

The first rule of using any herbal or homeopathic treatments is to remember that “natural” doesn’t equal “safe.”  Think of all the things in nature that you wouldn’t want to put into your body (poisons or the base ingredients of many hallucinogenic drugs, for example.)  For this reason, you should never assume that labeling or product info claiming “natural” ingredients is all you need to feel confident in its suitability.

How Much is Too Much?

Too much of a good thing can cause horrible effects.  Coffee, in normal doses, has been linked to a decrease in dementia and Type 2 diabetes.  Its effect when used in extreme amounts, however, can aggravate heartburn and may act as a diuretic.  The point to this observation is that the right amounts of many natural remedies can prove to be helpful, while being uneducated and using too much may have you regretting your actions.  (I recommend reading both the product packaging for the correct dosage and then cross-referencing it against solid info found on trusted website, books, or your doctor’s knowledge.)

Natural vs. Homeopathic vs. Herbal

We’ve already discussed how “natural” in and of itself isn’t a golden ticket to good health.  Likewise, “herbal” simply implies that a product contains herbs or herbal extracts in some fashion.  The main ingredients may or may not be the actual herb; it could also be filler (sugar, for example.)  Homeopathic remedies are even more confusing.  While the jury is out on that actual effectiveness of such products, I recommend reading up on how homeopathic products are made.  Many people are strongly for them, while others claim they are merely placebos.  Homeopathic products may or may not also contain herbal or other natural ingredients.

Safety and Regulation

It may be tempting to buy one of the products mentioned above because they can be more affordable than a prescription drug and do not require a doctor’s script.  This can open up all kinds of possibilities for those without health insurance or who would like to try something milder than a more aggressive drug therapy.  It can also, however, lead people down a frustrating path of trying everything under the sun to cure their ailment, often causing them to take multiple remedies at once (and making it difficult to credit any one product with their positive results.)  Since most of these products are not currently regulated by the FDA, they cannot actually claim to cure or treat any disease; although most people take them for this purpose.

Natural remedies are popular, sometimes cheaper, but also often disappointing.  Many of the more proven, simple forms of treatment are those that you can grow in your own backyard.  Yarrow, for example, grows well anywhere, and makes a delicious tea.  It has also been used for centuries as a way to stop bleeding on the battlegrounds, and quite possibly as a treatment for allergies.  In any matter, it is a beautiful plant that is easy to tend to, and it preferred among many species of birds as a nest liner.  If you would like to get into treatments, I recommend starting with something easy and low-risk (such as the yarrow), do your research, and be reasonable with your expectations.