There’s this phenomenon I’m observing a lot lately… I’m sure you’ve noticed (or done it) yourself too… it’s the DIY natural remedy search. This is not only through google, but through forums and other pages like facebook, be that interest groups and forums or just as a post requesting advice.
There are a number of issues with this which I urge you to consider seriously before you ask advice – or worse, follow it – in this situation.
Although its always a great thing when people engage in their health – its something we all need more of – that is simply not what is happening in this scenario. Unfortunately what seems to be occurring is something close to Isaac Asimovs observance that ‘democracy means my ignorance is as good as someone else’s knowledge’ – something not only incorrect but potentially dangerous when it comes to health. It seemed well past time to lay some of the most common misconceptions to rest.
1. In/Accurate Information
One of the common and more significant issues with the internet is the capacity to publish any information at all on the internet without fact checking or accountability: which means you have no idea if the person whose advice you are asking has a qualification, a personal experience, a problem, or simply no idea.
2. Natural does not automatically mean safe
Whenever people say things suggesting its natural is just safe, my usual response is – so is arsenic. Natural supplements, be that herbs, enzymes, minerals etc are generally much safer with much lesser risk of harm – that’s why you can purchase them so easily. However Herbal medicines and supplements have chemical profiles and active compounds which can have powerful effects. This is why they are so effective!! The vast majority (80% plus) of pharmaceuticals are still derived from plants and natural substances.
3. Its medicine, people.
Practitioner level supplements are regulated under the TGA in Australia, the same government department which checks and qualifies other medical grade pharmaceuticals – commonly known as medications. These levels of supplementation are exclusively available for access by a qualified practitioner, because of potential risk in the case of misuse. These are at a much higher potency that you can commonly buy at a health food store. Additionally, any herb or supplement will have a unique profile and use, which may be best used for short or long term, and within certain parameters of dosage for best effect.
4. What does ‘professional’ mean anyway?
That issue of qualifications (above) has received a lot of attention lately, thanks to some self declared ‘experts’ without any. Not everyone wants to spend 5-8 years – and up – of their life studying something – I get it. Or of course they are more interested in something else! And that’s completely fair enough. But if you aren’t prepared to make that investment of time and energy learning something, refrain from giving advice on that topic. Just sayin’.
5. Legal Smeagal
That pesky issue of qualifications…. Has other ramifications. Health professionals in Australia require insurance and Association memberships (as well as AHPRA, if they are in a Registered Profession) and part of that means that we are accountable for the advice we give. That extends to consultations, emails, and other, less formal exchanges, like facebook and parties. This is something every practitioner is taught in training: do not give advice (or treatment) in these situations because you are accountable for it – without legal protection. This means that by definition, the only people who will give you advice on public forums are those unlicensed to give it. You can see the problem here, no doubt.
6. Its all about context
I’m presuming – and really hoping – you wouldn’t take an antibiotic, anti-depressant, or insulin prescribed to your friend just because you had similar symptoms, and there’s no reason why you should presume it to be appropriate in the case of a natural product either. The foundation of all medicine is appropriate diagnosis. It might surprise you that most experienced practitioners not only don’t diagnose ourselves, (except for obvious things) but we don’t do it for our immediate circle of loved ones either – we’re too close to them to diagnose clearly. If that’s true of an experienced professional, how likely are you as a layperson to get it right?
7. DIY danger
I’m sure we’ve all done this one – the DIY home disaster. From hair to bathrooms, its happened for us all. However unlike your bathroom, the damage you may be doing with an incorrect supplement or herbal medicine may take a while to become obvious, and you might not pick up on it for a very long time. Its true that most of us are poor judges of our experience – we very much live in the now and so don’t tend to pay attention to changes until our attention is brought to something. There is however one aspect of this similar to your bathroom – it will probably take longer (and cost you more) than if you had gone to a professional in the first place.
8. Its really disrespectful
In the same way actors often detest reality tv (its obviously a way of not paying the real wages entitled to a professional), no health practitioner is going to spend time and energy giving advice for someone who cant be bothered making an appointment. Because if you cant get motivated to make that small step, how likely are you to follow any of our suggestions to actually get results? Also: the obvious here, but Health professionals have overheads, just like you do (in fact, more than you do). To bring that analogy back, if you want to be proud of Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett, you need to share the love.
9. You’re missing the point
The most basic foundation of all natural medicines is holism. If you aren’t clear on this term, holism means that the whole being – be that a plant, or a person, is more than its isolatable parts. You are a whole being, not just your biochemistry or your genetic profile or your disease diagnosis. Which means what you get is way more than ‘just’ a herb or supplement (or treatment) – you get a whole experience.