From: Jacqueline Snyder
Date: 2001-05-10 04:00:00 UTC
Subject: An opinion on herbs
While waiting at the dentist's office recently, I read an alternative
health magazine. One article said that doing certain yoga exercises would
flush my body of toxins. Another article in the same magazine said that
certain herbs would flush my body of toxins. The message was clear--I was
full of toxins and needed to get rid of them.
How many times have you heard that something 'flushes toxins from the body'
or 'causes toxins to build up in the body'? When did you first hear of the
concept of toxins needing to be flushed out? The idea is not that old--it
surfaced about 15 years ago in what were then fringe groups (communes,
health food stores, etc.).
What did we do before we knew we were full, supposedly, of toxins? Well,
we didn't do anything. We went on living about like we do now. We had colds
about as much then as now. We had cancer about as much then as now. (There
are a few changes in cancer rates over time, but they're mostly related to
changes in smoking habits.) It is interesting to note that cancer rates in
third world countries, where many of the herbs that have been popularized
come from, remain frighteningly high.
The notion that we're full of toxins that need to be flushed is truly
suspect. We mammals are miracles of engineering.We have amazingly
efficient, nearly miraculous, natural-born systems to get rid of substances
we don't need. The liver cleans the blood. The kidneys filter waste. The
lymph glands and various blood cells deal with invaders. And so on and so on.
When an idea looks funny, it is useful to ask who benefits by it. So who
wants you to believe that your body is full of toxins that need to be
removed? The answer to this is people who to stand to profit by your
believing that notion. (Buy my pills, buy my exercise method, buy my book.)
Many of the people who stand to profit do believe they're offering
something useful. They aren't intentionally misleading anyone. But it is
weak reason that allows them to believe in what they're doing. It is flatly
unnatural to suggest that a handful of leaves, roots, or other dead
material, can somehow detect a situation, decide on a response, and then
apply itself accordingly. For example, it was stated about ginseng that
"This family of herbs are considered adaptogen herbs which are
characterized by minimal toxicity, have general actions, and what they do
is normalize whatever imbalance there is that is causing a pathological
state. So, if the blood sugar is too high (diabetes) they will lower it, if
it is too low (hypoglycemia) they will increase it."
I think that the problem, the weakness that lets us ignore what our
intelligence tell us, is that we deeply desire the best for our ferrets.
Exotic animal medicine is years behind human medicine, and often even the
best, most knowledgeable ferret vets will shrug and say, "I don't know."
This is scary, and hard to accept. If you've been around ferrets for any
length of time, you know how sad and invincible their cancers are. It is
only human (and a wonderful attribute of being human) to strive against
their death sentences, to look for ways to beat the rap.
But at what cost to the ferret? If one insists on beating the rap, so to
speak, then I would suggest proceeding very cautiously. As a first precept,
take, "Above all else, do no harm."