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The SkepDoc

Hazards of Herbal Medicine: Lessons from Aristolochia

This “Brief History of Medicine” has been circulating on the Internet:

2000 B.C.—Here, eat this root.

1000 A.D.—That herb is heathen.

Here, say this prayer.

1850 A.D.—That prayer is superstition.

Here, drink this potion.

1940 A.D.—That potion is snake oil.

Here, swallow this pill.

1985 A.D.—That pill is ineffective.

Here, take this antibiotic.

2000 A.D.—That antibiotic is artificial.

Here, eat this root.

It seems we have come full circle. The only medicines our ancestors had were herbal medicines. By the 19th century, doctors only had a handful of truly effective medicines that remain in use today, like opium derivatives and quinine. Most of the remedies they prescribed were either useless or poisonous. As scientific pharmacology developed, medical treatment was revolutionized. Today we have antibiotics, anesthetics, birth control pills, insulin, and a wealth of other drugs that our ancestors never dreamed of. But recently it has become popular in some circles to denigrate Big Pharma and call for a return to “Natural” (with a capital N) herbal remedies, in the belief that they are uniformly milder and safer than prescription drugs and just as effective. Sorry, but that belief is demonstrably wrong.

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About Skeptic

INTERNET PORNOGRAPHY SPECIAL SECTION: IS PORNOGRAPHY BAD FOR YOU?; How Porn Is Messing with Your Manhood; Skeptical of Porn Skeptics; Hazards of Herbal Medicine: Lessons from Aristolochia; What is Sexual Orientation?; Did a Teenager Discover an Ancient Mayan City on Google Earth?; Paleo Diets and Utopian Dreams; Does AA Work? Alcoholics Anonymous, 12-Step Programs, and What We Really Know About Substance Abuse Treatment; The Clash of Eschatologies: The Role of End-Times Thinking in World History; Nightmares from the Id: The Neurophysiology of Anomalous Psychological Experiences; Terror Attacks that Never Were; Electromagnetic Fields and Parental Panics: A Case Study in How Science Can Bring Comfort; REVIEWS: Who Invented Science?; Science and the Creation of the Modern Mind; Heaven Is Not For Real; When Scientific American Put Psychics to the Test; JUNIOR SKEPTIC: MammothMysteries! Part One. The Hidden History of Mammoths and Mastodons