DOES THE NATURAL APPROACH TO FEELING BETTER REALLY HELP? By Zakiyah Ebrahim
Should we consider natural remedies as our first-aid kit to treating common health issues and dealing with pain? We spoke to a health expert for answers.
We’ve made leaps and bounds in the science of nutrition but, sometimes, the overwhelming spread of information can lead us to confusion, says author Danielle Arsenault in her TED Talk, explaining that no one food is going to promise perfect health. Instead, we need to gain our nutrition from a variety of nutritional sources.
In her talk titled The Power of Plants, she says that if we look at ancient diet practices, we’ll see that they ate local, fresh foods that were preserved naturally – a diet based upon their surroundings.
Studies suggest we’re living shorter than our ancestors because of our diets, and that chronic pain is linked to unhealthy diets. Apart from including plants in our diets, they can also relieve pain in many conditions.
Natural pain treatments are becoming an increasingly popular way to manage pain, and medical professionals are looking to plants as a source of inspiration. There
are many plants that may fill the growing need for non-pharmaceutical alternatives
to pain relief, said Ilene Ruhoy, a certified neurologist and speaker at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting. “One should follow where nature leads” when looking for ways to treat inflammation and pain, Ruhoy told attendees.
Certain plants can treat inflammation and other related conditions, and fall under a category of treatment known as ‘alternative medicine’. Many people use these plant remedies alongside Western medicine, often for chronic pain and stress, and an overall improvement in their health.
Cape Town-based independent registered practitioner Dr Aaseema Mugjenkar says doctors are inclined to prescribe Western medications first, based on symptoms patients experience, and that their training doesn’t encompass plant-based treatments.
However, she adds that if there is sufficient scientific evidence on the efficiency of a particular plant as alternative medication, it is certainly okay to try it out as natural medications frequently have fewer side effects than Western medication.
“I would advocate for the use of natural products to treat illnesses, provided they are not harmful to one’s physical and mental health. If you’ve tried it out and they don’t seem to work, I would suggest you contact a medical professional for an assessment and further treatment. And we should bear in mind that there are many natural products on the market which are still in a grey area, and we should refrain from using them until research proves its safety.”
Power in these plants…
According to some researchers, the rosemary plant, Rosmarinus officinalis L., may help treat headaches, as well as muscle and bone pain.
If your grandma ever told you to dip a cotton ball in clove oil and wipe it against your gums to get rid of toothache, she wasn’t far off. People have traditionally used cloves, from the Eugenia caryophyllata plant, to relieve pain from toothache.
Research done in 2011 found that the leaves of a feverfew, also called featherview, have pain-relieving properties. This medicinal plant’s uses include treating fever, migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, toothaches and stomach aches.
Native to a very specific region of the Western Cape’s Fynbos species, extracts of the buchu plant have been shown to help with conditions such as joint pain, eczema, treatment of burns and bladder infections, reports an article on Health24.
This flowering plant contains curcuma, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, and is known for its pain-relieving qualities. A small-scale 2014 study found that curcuma extract is as effective as popular Western medication for treating pain of knee osteoarthritis when taken for four weeks. What’s wonderful about turmeric is that you can include it in its natural form in juices, curries and smoothies.