Pitfalls of Natural Remedies in the News

In the last half of January, we saw two exciting studies released about the potential therapeutic benefits of hemp compounds like CBD and CBDA in fighting COVID-19.

The first study came from Oregon State University, the second from the University of Chicago. Both indicated that various hemp compounds showed the potential to theoretically prevent COVID-19 infection in human cells. To be clear: hemp, CBD and CBDA cannot prevent or treat COVID-19. 

While these studies got picked up everywhere from Oregon Public Broadcasting to Forbes, the news was gone as fast as it arrived, and probably for good reason. Although the findings were very exciting, the results shouldn’t be taken too far. 

A detailed reading would show that the studies were done in tubes, not humans, and the doses were generally so high (no pun intended) as to render them irrelevant to human subjects, at least for now.

As someone who has an advanced degree from a natural medicine institute, moments like this always raise two very conflicted emotions: hope and frustration.

Hope comes from my deep-seated belief in the power of plant-based medicine. In the ability to strengthen our immune systems through healthy habits, whole foods, herbal remedies and mindfulness. 

Of course, none of these will make you immune to COVID-19, but your body will be much better prepared to fight off the potentially deadly virus. 

It is probably important here to note that I am vaccinated and boosted. Although I whole-heartedly believe everything I said, I also trust the scientific review process and believe in the efficacy of the widely available vaccines.

Frustration comes from the click-bait times we live in, where legitimate news media needs to be nervous about people over-simplifying science and making their own illogical conclusions. 

Frustration also comes from money-grubbing entrepreneurs who use a headline to sell unproven medicine and rip off typically low-income individuals. 

Additionally, I get frustrated because I know that no naturally occurring plant, herb, root, spice or seed will ever get the complete research needed to gain complete recognition as a valid treatment for any disease. Why? Well, money of course.

Research trials cost huge sums of money and we won’t see that kind of investment in something that can’t be patented and owned. Even if some lab did grow their own strain of, say, lavender and prove through rigorous research that their lavender helped promote restful sleep, that research could still only ever be legitimately used to talk about their lavender. 

That isn’t to say that all hope is lost. Websites like Healthline (healthline.com) and World’s Healthiest Foods (whfoods.com) still produce amazing research-backed information about the potential therapeutic benefits of thousands of natural remedies. 

Statista (statista.com) estimates the US alternative medicine industry to still be around $21 billion in 2021.

Between the opioid epidemic and growing awareness of broad antibiotic resistance, it feels like the momentum has shifted away from pharmaceuticals for now. Consumers are becoming increasingly skeptical of taking a simple pill to cure themselves and natural remedies offer both anecdotal and research-backed proof of efficacy. 

If the Great Resignation has taught us anything, it’s that people are really starting to speak up for their own health and wellness.

Also, as we discuss the myriad ways to deal with climate change in the 21st century, shifts towards sustainable and holistic healthcare share tremendous overlap with lowering carbon emissions. 

If people are encouraged to undertake healthier behaviors – eating more vegetables, getting more outdoor activity –  those will hopefully replace more unhealthy and polluting ones along the way. 

I hope it is safe to say that unhealthy humans and an unhealthy planet are inextricably linked and we need to correct both if we are to survive this century.

So while little blips in the news can simultaneously cause hope and frustration, the longer view reassures me that growing support of natural remedies and holistic healthcare will continue to inspire positive change in the coming decades. Or, at least, I hope so.

Andrew Harmon holds a master’s in nutrition from the Natural University of Natural Medicine here in Portland.

Pitfalls of Natural Remedies in the News

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