Herbs can cure. Herbs can kill.

centella
Centella asiatica, better known as Brahmi.

Medicinal plants are useful. Indeed, many modern drugs have been derived from plants.

However, there is far too much quackery in herbal medicine. Far too many rogues. Far too many “scientists” with dubious PhD degrees from cut-rate institutes. Far too many self-styled experts.

Here’s how the quacks and the “scientists” will con you:

1) “It’s herbal. No side-effects”.

Bullshit. This is an utter lie. If any herbalist tells you this, no matter how many PhD degrees he has, please run. Run far and run fast. Only a genuine quack would make this claim. The belief that herbs do not have side-effects is the most common and most dangerous myth out there.

Reality check: Most plants are toxic to humans. Very few of them are edible, and very very few of them are useful as medicines. By “useful” one does not mean that these few herbs are harmless. Far from it. There is no such thing as a safe herb. Doesn’t exist.

2) “It’s time-tested, over centuries, over thousands of years, used by millions of people. Do you think millions of people across the world are fools”?

Again, bullshit.

Just because a herb has been used by millions of people over thousands of years, that still does not mean that the stuff is safe.

As an example, here’s a very popular herb that has been in use since 6000 BC. It has been in continuous use since eight thousand years. WHO says that across the world, one billion people consume it several times a day, every single day. That’s one-seventh of the world’s population. The herb provides a living to millions of farmers world-wide. Trans-national corporations have built their multi-billion dollar empires because of it. Wars have been fought over it.

How can such a herb be anything but safe and useful? Do you think that one billion people across the world are fools? The answer is YES. Because the herb we are talking about is TOBACCO.

See what I mean?

3) “It’s guaranteed”.

Of course it’s guaranteed. So is a visit to the hospital.

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Noni. Medicinal value = Zero!

“Guaranteed” is not a scientific term. You will not find the word “guaranteed” in any peer-reviewed scientific publication. This word is specifically used by door-to-door salesmen, by street-side peddlers, by snake-oil merchants, by smooth talkers in expensive suits with MBA degrees hanging on their walls – and by certain “scientists”.

If the herb has been studied by real scientists using accepted methods of science, written about in research papers that have been critiqued by other scientists, and then approved for use by national-level regulatory agencies, there would no need to “guarantee” its safety and efficacy.

4) “It’s a gift to mankind from Mother Nature and/or God. How dare you question Mother Nature and/or God? What are you, an atheist?”

I love this argument. Herbalists and “scientists” throw these phrases at me all the time. As if it is blasphemy to use one’s common sense.

Plants, like all other life-forms, have evolved over a few billion years into what they are today. Do you really think they exist for your sole benefit? Plants produce phytochemicals for their own use, for their own survival, for their own metabolism needs. Not for you. Any effect those phytochemicals may have on your body is totally co-incidental.

Do you really think any plant on this earth cares about your diabetes or blood pressure or your cholesterol or your dysfunctional dick? Plants do not get diabetes. Why would any plant produce phytochemicals to treat your diabetes, then? Ever thought about that?

As I said, these effects on your body are entirely co-incidental. Be thankful for that co-incidence. But don’t believe everything you hear or read. Be thoroughly skeptical.

5) “Several published studies have proven that…”, “The latest research shows that …”

This is a dangerous trap, that deceives even qualified people. It’s called Argument from Authority. To quote Wikipedia, this is a “logical fallacy that argues that a position is true or more likely to be true because an authority or authorities agree with it”.

What it means in simple terms is that people will believe anything they hear from someone who looks like an authority. And this is exactly where the catch is. How do you know that the quoted authority is really an authority? How do you know the scientific journal that published that research study is in fact a reputable journal? How do you know the research study is itself not a total fake?

A large number of research papers published from India are either outright fakes or riddled with dubious data, erroneous results and unreliable conclusions. Many “reputable” journals are published by semi-literate nitwits operating out of their homes. Any body with a PC and an internet connection can create a scientific journal with an impressive name. Mind you, anybody.

Forty two percent of the world’s fake scientific journals originate from India. Did you know that?

If I were to tell you that my research study was published in The International Journal of Advanced Herbal Medicine and Plant Science, you would be suitably impressed. Except that this journal does not exist. I thought it up just now.

The real question you should be asking is, who sponsored that research study? If a research study on a herbal product is sponsored by the manufacturer himself, do you really think it will be totally honest and unbiased? Really?

6) “That eminent scientist and his fellow eminent scientists have set up an international research foundation for this herb. Do you mean to say those eminent scientists are liars”?

Yes, sometimes they are.

Adolf Hitler recruited one hundred physicists, including Nobel laureates, to write a book refuting Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein’s only response to that book was, “Why one hundred? If I am wrong, just one would have been enough”.

Just because a whole bunch of “scientists” gets together and says the same thing, it does not always mean they are correct – or telling the truth. Many such research foundations that have been set up by such “scientists” are sponsored by companies with a strong profit motive.

In fact, the more the number of “eminent” scientists involved in a research foundation, the more skeptical you should be about what they’re telling you.

7) “No need for “allopathic” medicines. They are poisonous chemicals. Stop all chemicals, and use only my herbs”.

Yeah sure. Please write up your will before you do that. Phytochemicals are chemicals too. And they are just as toxic as any other chemical, if not more.

Get this into your head. Pharmaceutical companies make drugs specifically for you, designed for your ailments, tested for you, certified as safe for you. And they spend millions of dollars and many many years to bring those life-saving medicines to you.

Plants do not produce phytochemicals for you. They don’t care about you and your multiple ailments. They do not even know you exist.

Got the picture?

As I said before, a few herbs found in nature are certainly useful. Only very few of them. If you do want to use herbs for your health, please do so. But talk to the right people, get your facts right, and use your own judgement.

Do not ever take herbal remedies along with your regular medicine. Ever. Even a simple condiment like turmeric interferes with many life-saving drugs.

And do not ever, ever stop taking your regular medicine, without talking to a real doctor first.

Mother Nature has not made plants for your exclusive benefit.

Mother Nature, however, has definitely given you something for your exclusive benefit. It’s called a brain. Use it.

Cheers … Srini.

Herbal myths … Aloe

Aloe vera. ©SKSrinivas
Aloe vera ©SKSrinivas

So. You want to drink Aloe juice. Why? Out of your mind?

It is a complete myth that herbs are safe for you. There’s a long list of herbs that are hyped out of proportion but are definitely harmful to you. At the head of this list, stands Aloe. And not just for alphabetical reasons.

Aloe vera or Aloe barbadensis, has been used in folk medicine since a few thousand years across various countries, including ours. Traditionally, aloe gel is used as a topical application for small wounds, cuts and burns and for skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis. The term ‘topical’ means ‘applied on the skin’.

Aloe is also used in Ayurveda as a laxative and cathartic. The term ‘cathartic’ means ‘crap your guts out’.

That is Aloe’s primary effect on the body, when ingested. And that is what Ayurveda uses it for. It will cause loose motions at the least, and drastic diarrhoea at the worst. Ayurveda uses aloe as a medicine, and not as a “health drink”.  Like any other medicine, Ayurveda uses it sparingly. And under strict medical supervision.

As with Noni, there are innumerable claims being made about the juice of Aloe vera. You know, the usual tall tales – antidiabetic, antibacterial, anti-cholesterol, anti-hypertensive, anti-arthritic – and to top it all, the claim that aloe gel can cure burns caused by an atom bomb. Yeah. Atom bomb.

As with all herbal remedies, it boils down to … evidence, evidence, evidence.

And in the case of Aloe, as with many other over-hyped herbal remedies like Noni, the evidence about its claimed health benefits is … nil, nil, nil.

On the other hand, the evidence about Aloe’s nasty effects on your body is … real, real, real.

Here’s a short listing of what aloe can do to you:

  • A two-year study has shown that Aloe extract can cause intestinal cancer in rats and mice. And this study was done by a division of the US government’s department of health, no less. You can download the entire report here.
  • Abdominal cramps and diarrhea have been reported with oral use of aloe vera.
  • Diarrhoea caused by aloe can in turn decrease the absorption of many drugs.
  • Aloe can interact with your diabetes medication, and can bring down your blood sugar drastically.
  • Some studies have shown that aloe can adversely affect your liver.

I got this information not from the top of my head, but from The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), this being the US Government’s “lead agency for scientific research on the diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine“.

Here is the page from the NCCIH website on Aloe vera, that I used for all this information.

Bottom line: Use the gel on your bottom, if your bottom has been exposed to the sun. And on other parts of your body, for the same reason.

That’s because no major toxicity has been reported from the use of Aloe gel as a topical application for sunburn, rashes or minor abrasions on the skin. And yes, aloe gel can soothe inflammation caused by exposure to radiation. Not an atom bomb, but exposure to X-ray radiation.

Mind you, aloe gel will not treat any skin condition. It can soothe irritated skin, that’s all. Use a reputable commercial brand, not some home-made junk. And, please remember that allergy to aloe is quite common. So, first test a small amount of the gel on your skin.

Instead of using aloe gel after you burn your skin in the sun, don’t you think it’s better to stay out of the sun in the first place? Or, use sunscreen. Or, use an umbrella. I’m not joking. Dermatologists will tell you that the best way to protect yourself from the sun is to use an umbrella.

And here’s what you do not do. You do not guzzle aloe juice, as if it’s nimbu paani. Aloe juice, no matter where you get it from, is not entirely safe for you. Why do you want to drink aloe juice anyway? What incurable disease can it cure? What miracles can it perform in your body? Make you young again? Grow your hair back?  Do you know how awful that stuff tastes?

Can’t you drink a glass of normal juice instead? Like orange juice or grape juice. Normal may be boring, but it’s safe.

Still want to guzzle aloe juice? Go ahead. Just make sure there’s a toilet nearby and perhaps a hospital too.

Herbs can cure. Herbs can kill. Look at the evidence first. Get your facts right. Talk to a real doctor. And even then, think twice about taking any herbal remedy instead of properly prescribed medicine, a sensible diet and regular exercise.

Stay safe.

Cheers … Srini.

You’re getting a colonic … what?

Are you out of your mind? Seriously. Out of your mind?

Do you really think that having a semi-literate stranger shove a rubber tube up your bum and flushing out your rectum with fifty liters of unclean water mixed with god-knows-what, will grant you everlasting youth, health and vigor?

There’s a lot of brouhaha going on about colonic irrigations or enemas. Far too many quacks use drastic enemas on innocent patients without any concern about the very real dangers of this practice.

THE GREAT BOWEL MOVEMENT

Alternative medics,  aka “naturopaths”, have always had this great obsession with humanity’s bowels, as exemplified by the concept of ‘autointoxication’.  The theory holds that constipation causes ‘toxins’ to be absorbed and poison the body.  Proponents vehemently insist that constipation causes hardened feces to accumulate for months (or even years) in the large intestine and result in global disaster. They even have a scary,  but utterly nonsensical term for it: mucoid plaque.

This theory is nothing more than a load of excreta.

Controlled experiments have clearly and repeatedly proven it wrong.  Direct observation of the colon has found no evidence that hardened feces can accumulate on intestinal walls.

THE INDIGESTIBLE TRUTH

Most of the digestive process takes place in the small intestine, from which nutrients are absorbed into the body.  The remaining matter then enters the large intestine from where it proceeds to the rectum for elimination.  The large intestine absorbs water and essential minerals – and nothing more.  There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to prove that a normal colon absorbs anything else.  The bowel habits of healthy individuals can vary greatly.  Some people have a movement daily, some have several movements each day, while others can go several days with no adverse effects.

Despite these facts, assorted health gurus still claim that ‘death begins in the colon’.

COLONIC WASHOUT

Colonic irrigation is usually done by passing a rubber tube deep into the rectum. Warm water – a very large amount of it –  is pumped in to wash out the large intestine.  Some quacks add herbs or other weird stuff to the enema solution.

Enemas of this kind are dangerous in the extreme.  The tube can induce severe cramps and pain.  If the equipment is not sterilized between treatments, germs can be transmitted to others.  Several outbreaks of serious infections have been reported, including one in which victims died following bowel perforation.  Cases of heart failure have been reported.  Repeated enemas can weaken and damage the colon beyond repair.

There is overwhelming medical evidence against colonic irrigation for general health. Enemas are used occasionally in medical practice before a test like colonoscopy or before certain surgical procedures.  Otherwise, there is no medical justification for colonic irrigation.

If you think you have a real problem with your ‘movements’ then please meet a real doctor.  There are several real remedies for gastrointestinal ailments.

Next time someone offers you an enema, tell him exactly where he can shove it.

Cheers … Srini.

Herbal Myths … Noni nonsense.

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Noni fruit. Really want to eat something that looks like this?

Noni stinks. Literally and otherwise.

The ancient Polynesians ate the malodorous fruit of Morinda citrifolia as part of their regular diet. The Polynesians were great seafarers. Over the centuries, they migrated across the Pacific Rim and southeast Asia. Wherever they sailed they carried along their favorite plants for food. One of those ‘canoe plants’ was Noni.

According to their legends, sometime in 400 A.D., a chieftan called Hawaiʻiloa landed up at a Pacific island that came to bear his name, Hawaii. He introduced noni to that part of the world. Except for oral traditions, there’s no hard evidence to support this legend.

While noni is generally associated with Hawaii, the plant grows in India as well. Noni flourishes in sub-tropical climates with minimal maintenance.

The Hawaiians liked the fruit in spite of its cheesy stench, because they thought it was healthy. Well, if you like stinky fruit that’s your business. The juice of this cheesy stinker is another matter.

Suddenly, we are being bombarded with awe-inspiring stories about Noni juice. We are told it’s miraculous, sacred, divine, God’s gift to mankind, cure for cancer, cure for arthritis, colic, seizures, cough, diabetes, inflammation, kidney disease, liver disease, and just about every ailment known to Man.

Noni-morons like to throw impressive adjectives at us, without really knowing what they mean, like immunomodulator, anti-proliferative, adaptogenic, and the like.

There are herbalists, botanists, alternative medicinalists, self-proclaimed “eminent” scientists, research foundations with grandiose names managed by afore-mentioned “eminent” scientists, all screaming themselves hoarse about the allegedly miraculous benefits of this alleged gift of God.

There are about 32,000 pharma companies across India, that develop and manufacture about one thousand different varieties of life-saving drugs. According to afore-mentioned “eminent” Noni scientists, these 32,000 pharma companies are run by fools. They should stop making one thousand different varieties of life-saving drugs. They should make noni juice instead. Millions of responsible doctors across India are also fools, because they insist on prescribing those life-saving drugs. They should all stop prescribing life-saving medicines of all kinds – and give us Noni juice instead.

I’m not being sarcastic.

There are “scientists” I know who make these statements out loud. What scares me is the increasing number of consumers who actually believe these statements.

These “scientists” will shut up skeptics like myself with review articles (written by themselves, of course), research papers (authored by themselves, of course), reams of “scientific” reports (produced by themselves, of course).

But there is something missing in all the information they bury you with – EVIDENCE.

Noni is touted as a guaranteed cure for cancer. The number of peer-reviewed research papers that conclusively prove this claim is ZERO.

In fact, the number of peer-reviewed research papers that provide you with conclusive evidence of any of Noni’s claimed health benefits is the same – ZERO.

No wonder then, the USFDA sends out formal warning letters to manufacturers of Noni juice for making ridiculous claims. You can see one such warning letter, here.

The truth about Noni is …

The US National Library of Medicine says that consumption of Noni juice in medicinal amounts is possibly unsafe.

There are several peer-reviewed reports that noni juice can cause liver damage. Here are a few:

Severe liver injury was reported in a 38-year-old woman who drank noni juice for just one week.

Another study reported a 14-year-old boy whose liver failed after consuming noni juice.

Acute hepatitis was reported in a 24-year old woman, after drinking noni juice for a month.

One victim even required a liver transplant.

Don’t take my word for it. Check out these papers and judge for yourself.

Did you know noni juice has unhealthy amounts of potassium? If you’re taking medication for blood pressure or cholesterol, you should not take noni juice. You might damage your kidneys. Truth is, since noni juice can damage your liver, you should not take it if you’re on any kind of medication.

Bottom-line:

If you like stinky fruits, eat Noni fruit if it’s available. Eat it in moderation and with caution.

If you think the juice of noni is a God-send that can cure you of everything from cancer to old age, you are utterly wrong. Drinking noni juice for extended periods is a bad idea. The health benefits are non-existent. The health risks are real.

Enjoy normal fruits like normal people do. You know, bananas, apples, oranges, mangoes and stuff. They’re much better for you.

Leave Noni to the “scientists”.

Cheers … Srini.

Herbal myths – Wheatgrass juice

Image source: Wikipedia
Image source: Wikipedia

I’ve been in the field of herbal research and development since a long time. I’ve seen it all. And nothing annoys me more than this great misconception that many people have – namely, if it’s herbal, there are no side-effects.

It’s a default response. If I say ‘Herbal’, you’ll say, ‘No side effects’.

No matter what putrid poison it actually is, if it’s green, it’s safe.  I’ve seen too many people screw up their health because of this myth.

One of the great herbal hoaxes of the modern age is – Wheatgrass juice.

Make no mistake. It’s a hoax, plain and simple.

There are innumerable claims being made about the alleged health benefits of Triticum aestivum, that being the fancy scientific name for Wheatgrass.

Not one of these claims is backed by hard scientific evidence. Not one.

The alleged “detoxifying” effect of wheatgrass juice is non-existent. Our liver and kidneys do an excellent job of removing toxins from the body – whatever one means by “toxins”. Wheatgrass juice has no proven effect on either liver function or renal function. No effect whatsoever.

And to your misfortune, if your liver or kidney function is compromised due to infection, or chemotherapy or anything else, wheatgrass juice will not help you in any manner at all.

The “living” chlorophyll found in wheatgrass (whatever that means), is simply not available to the body, for a very good reason. That chlorophyll is broken rapidly by the strong acid in your stomach. Even if it were available, your body has no use for it. Chlorophyll is not a substitute for the body’s natural hemoglobin.

The same fate befalls the enzymes found in wheatgrass. They are all destroyed by stomach acid, within a few minutes after ingestion. Whatever health benefits you think you’ll get from the “living enzymes” in wheatgrass, exist only in your imagination.

Wheatgrass does contain some minerals, vitamins and other useful phytochemicals – just like all other plants that you eat. It is no way better or “healthier” than any other vegetable you like.

There is no real, proven benefit to be obtained from drinking raw plant juices of any kind, including wheatgrass. There is however, a good chance of picking up a serious E.coli infection or worse, a tapeworm infestation, especially if you use improperly treated compost to grow that green stuff in the comfort of your own home.

The only established fact about wheatgrass is that it is a decent source of plant fiber – just like all other plants on this planet.

Still, if you do want to guzzle wheatgrass juice thinking that it will cure you of all your ills, I can’t stop you.  Just be aware of the risks involved – diarrhoea being one of them.

You know that pink and grey stuff that’s inside your skull? It’s called a brain.  Use it.

Cheers … Srini.