Complementary and Alternative Medicine - Herbal Therapy and Anesthesia

Herbal medicines and phytopharmaceuticals

Herbal medicines and phytopharmaceuticals are plants or parts of plants that contain biologically active components. There is tremendous variability in the purity and potency of herbal preparations. The amount of active component can vary widely within the same species depending on growing conditions. Herbal products are sometimes adulterated with foreign substances, including pharmaceuticals, bacteria, and toxic metals. Dietary supplements contain “concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of any ingredient of a vitamin, mineral, amino acid, enzyme or herb.” Vitamins are supplements that contain essential organic compounds or nutrients that are required in small amounts to maintain bodily functions. Homeopathic medications are derived from plant, animal, or mineral sources. It is thought that they stimulate natural defenses in very diluted doses.

Herbal medicines are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the category of “dietary supplements” along with compounds such as vitamins and amino acids. The manufacturer does not have to prove efficacy or safety of a compound before it is marketed, and products are not scrutinized via the same stringent testing placed on drugs. Some companies are now using techniques such as chromatography to identify and standardize herbal preparations.

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