CAM EducationHerbals

Disconnect between the uses vs the scientific evidence supporting herbals

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic want to know why so few people use herbals in accordance with their evidence-based (read, proven) uses?

I think the answer is obvious, but they wrestle with this question nonetheless.

First, the details of their study.

  • The Alternative Health supplement is part of an annual, national survey of US adults.
  • It contains data on adults? use of the most commonly used herbals to treat a specific health condition in the past year.
  • The Natural Standard database was used as the source of evidence-based standards for herb use and applied to judge appropriate and inappropriate use of herbals.

And, the results.

  • 30,617 adults were surveyed
  • 19% consumed herbs in the past 12 months
  • Of those, 58% used herbs to treat a specific health condition.
  • About one-third used the herb in line with the proven scientific evidence.

The bottom line.
The researchers are asking a rhetorical question…I think.

The answer is obvious. Sources of well-referenced and reliable information about herbals are limited. The National Standard database is a great source, but who is going to pay the fee? Nobody, unless you’re a scientist in a ivory tower…in say, Rochester.

Clerks in health supplement shops are clueless. And would you want advice from this guy?

The vast majority — no, make that all readable summary resources except for this site — fail to reference what they write. This makes it very easy to play fast and lose with truth. I’m not suggesting writers do it on purpose, but in the absence of the need document your source to the reader there is a strong tendency to skim the facts. After all, everybody’s on a deadline.

Journalists in print and online grossly underestimate the public’s knowledge and sophistication. Even when it’s easy to reference an information source, as it is for online writing, most writers fail to do it, and websites almost never require it. Are they afraid that you might check them out and catch them in a mistake?

One more thought while I’m on this rant.
I suggest that writers be required to have more expertise than a degree in journalism before they are allowed to write on a topic. If its medicine, they should have a health-related degree. Likewise, if it’s politics, a degree in political science. If economics, a degree in economics, etc.

In the absence of this expertise, all writing descends to the lowest common denominator. It lacks context and historical perspective, and it’s full of misleading and/or obvious information that’s useless to the reader.

Don’t believe me? Then explain why fewer and fewer people watch the evening news or read newspapers. It’s not simply because there are more choices. It’s because the public has outgrown the old standbys.

5/21/07 18:28 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.