By C.C. Fisher
Doctors all over the world are constantly trying to cure ailments ranging from colds to cancer. But even with these modern discoveries, some people have opted for age-old remedies of bitter herbs and holistic medicine to cure what ails them.
Kathy Anderson, 40, from Fairview, Sanpete County, swears by herbs and other alternative medicines. She was having problems with her legs. The pain in her lower body was so strong that she could not sleep at night. Doctors couldn’t find what was wrong with her.
She finally turned to an iridologist, who read eyes to tell what is wrong with the body. The iridologist told her she had parathyroid cancer.
A doctor confirmed the iridologist’s diagnosis, and Anderson turned to non-traditional medicine to cure her.
“I took so many different kinds of herbs and pills — everything from blood purifiers to Essiac,” Anderson said.
It seems to have worked because Anderson’s cancer has significantly decreased.
“I have just a little bit of debris left,” Anderson said. She is confident that her methods will completely cure her.
Cases like these are not uncommon, said Jessica Rodda, a wellness consultant at the Good Earth in Provo. Rodda says people come in with questions from cancer to earaches to the common cold.
“Herbs and vitamins don’t have side effects,” Rodda said. “They work with the body.”
“Instead of treating symptoms, herbs and vitamins get to the root of the problem,” she said.
Many people choose alternative medicines because either their doctor can’t find what’s wrong with them or they don’t want aggressive treatment, Rodda said.
Shauna Castheagna, 19, a sophomore from Valencia, Calif., majoring in travel and tourism, takes herbs to treat stomach and digestive problems. In August she started eating organically. She doesn’t eat meat or dairy, and she stays away from foods with chemicals in them.
“My problems have gone away,” Castheagna said. “I’m always experimenting with herbs. Some things work better than others.”
This self-experimenting can be risky, said Craig Swenson, a pharmacist at the McDonald Health Center.
“Some people could be using alternative drugs that really don’t help them, rather than taking medicine that has been proven to help,” he said. “If a company is going to say a drug does something, they’d better be able to prove it. Some companies are just out to get money.”
Utah is considered the world’s capital for natural health supplements, also called nutraceuticals.
Nature’s Herbs in Orem is one of the biggest in the world.
The company’s products fall under the food category, said Ted Turgeon, research scientist at Nature’s Herbs.
“All of our labels are FDA-approved,” he said. In order for a product to be considered a drug, the producer must make a claim and prove that the product is safe and effective, Turgeon said.
However, some herbs and nutritional supplements make general claims. These bottles contain a warning that says, “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA.”
St. John’s Wort is a popular herb used for depression. According to Rodda, St. John’s Wort raises the seratonin level in humans.
However, Dr. David Weight, director of clinical psychology at BYU, does not recommend the herb.
“Effective medicine must be established in field trials. I have to trust the scientists who conduct actual double-blind studies,” Weight said.
According to Weight, who has a background in hypnosis, people will respond to suggestion. Non-traditional drugs may have something to do with the medicine, but it might also have something to do with the mind, he said.
“The problem with antibiotics and non-traditional medicine is that (they do) not rule out placebo effect and suggestion effect,” Weight said.
According to Dr. Glenn L. Earl, “If it was placebo in nature, then it wouldn’t work on animals.”
Earl, an herbalist and acupuncturist in Salt Lake City, said acupuncture dates back from as far as 10,000 to 3,000 years ago, depending on which archeologist one talks to.
Earl studied acupuncture in Boston at the New England School of Acupuncture.
Acupuncture is considered an alternative medicine, but has been mainstream in Asia for centuries. Acupuncture involves inserting hair-thin needles in select acupuncture points in the body.
The body has over 2,000 points. Different insertion points correlate with different ailments, Earl said.
“Acupuncture treats virtually everything. It can treat lupus, multiple sclerosis, colds and stomach pain,” he said. “The only diseases I haven’t seen it treat are Lou Gherig’s disease and cancer.”
Acupuncture works as a guide that helps the body treat itself. Acupuncture helps reestablish balance or homeostasis, Earl said.
Unlike herbs, acupuncture is FDA-approved. It is practiced in Boston General and taught at Harvard University, Earl said.
But acupuncture can be costly. The initial consultation can be anywhere from $100 to $170. After that, each session can cost between $35 to $50.
Each session takes about 20 minutes, and almost everyone must be treated multiple times.
“It usually takes one month of treatment for every year someone’s had the disease,” Earl said. “One of my patients has been treated every month for the past 18 years.”