International Health News

Herbal medicines in Europe

TORONTO, CANADA. Sales of herbal medicines now exceed $6 billion annually in Europe. Germany accounts for at least $2 billion of this and it is estimated that 80 per cent of German physicians regularly prescribe herbal medicines. The renaissance of herbal medicines in Germany began 10 to 15 years ago and was driven by patients' demands for alternatives to synthetic drugs. Phytopharmacology is now taught in medical schools and over 200 herbal products are covered by health insurance. St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is particularly popular as an antidepressant with prescriptions for 66 million daily doses being issued in 1994 alone. Colds, coughs, bronchial infections, irritable bowel syndrome, and sleep disturbances are other conditions frequently treated with herbal medicine by German doctors. Says Dr. Christel Schroter, a general practitioner in Berlin, "Many people come to me because they're fed up with synthetic drugs and they want something that is more natural." Herbal medicines are much less popular in North America and are rarely prescribed by medical doctors. Total sales of herbal products in Canada, for example, amounts to only $200 million per year. Dr. Frank Chandler of Dalhousie University believes that one of the reasons that herbal medicines have not entered mainstream medicine in Canada is that there are no uniform quality standards. Dr. Chandler is trying to introduce such standards through Health Canada's advisory committee on herbal medicine. Another reason for the poor acceptance of herbal remedies by the medical establishment is the fact that very little research is being done on herbal medicines in North America and that the vast majority of literature on the subject is published in languages other than English. There are signs of changes though. A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that Ginkgo biloba is effective in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. The journal Circulation reported a peer-reviewed study which endorsed garlic's beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system and the British Medical Journal reported on the benefits of St. John's wort in the treatment of depression.
Harrison, Pam. Herbal medicine takes root in Germany. Canadian Medical Association Journal, Vol. 158, March 10, 1998, pp. 637-39

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