Did you know that adverse drug reactions are the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.? According to research published by Harvard University, prescription drugs have a 1 in 5 chance of causing serious reactions after they are approved. Even properly prescribed drugs cause about 1.9 million drug hospitalizations per year, along with the 840,000 patients who experience serious adverse reactions to prescription drugs while in the hospital.
These stats seem to suggest a sad reality: modern drugs that are meant to heal us may actually end up hurting us. That’s exactly why phytotherapy, the use of herbal medicine and plant molecules for healing, is growing in popularity. The idea that pharmaceuticals don’t always have to be our first choice for healing is only growing in popularity. And phytoceuticals seem to be on the forefront of the natural medicine industry.
What Is Phytotherapy?
Phytotherapy is the use of molecules derived from plants for the treatment and prevention of disease. You can think of phytotherapy just like you would pharmaceutical science, expect that it does not involve the use of any synthetic drugs from a lab. All of the scientific principles and equipment used are pure plant molecules.
Phytotherapy is used to prevent or relieve a number of health concerns, from aging skin and acne, to diabetes, high blood pressure and even cancer.
Phytotherapy vs. Herbal Medicine
Dr. Bomi Joseph, the creator of Phyto Farmacy, a line of plant-based products, explains that phytotherapy is based on what’s called phytoceutical science, or “Phyto-Pharmacology.” Unlike herbal medicine, phytotherapy is based on controlled clinical trials or detailed molecular studies. While herbal medicine, like Ayurveda, teaches a general appreciation and knowledge of medicinal plants.
Take, for example, the study of the Humulus (hops) plant. In Ayurvedic medicine, the plant is used to alleviate symptoms of stress, sleep disorders, high cholesterol and diabetes. Within Ayurvedic or herbal medicine, there’s a general knowledge of the plants uses and benefits.
But with phytotherapy, the plant is isolated so that various molecular fractions can be studied and compared. As Doctor Joseph described it, “We created a monoclonal antibody test for a clinical fraction to test its purity and bioactivity. We conducted numerous trials and conducted diffusion studies on various formulations, and we documented the pharmacological properties of specific molecules.” So, put simply, phytotherapy is a science-backed form of plant-based medicine that utilizes specific plant compounds and extracts to promote healing.
Both phytotherapy and herbal medicine do have the same common foundation — a plant. But once scientists fractioned that plant and started studying it scientifically, this could no longer be referred to as “herbal medicine” or “Ayurvedic.” It then becomes phytotherapy or phytopharmacology.
Phytotherapy vs. Pharmaceutical Drugs
Phytoceuticals are natural molecules from a plant, with absolutely no modifications. Pharmaceutical drugs, on the other hand, are by law a synthetic molecule.
Although many pharmaceutical drugs were discovered in plants, the pharmaceutical companies made hundreds of synthetic variants of the plant molecule. They then performed clinical studies, filed patents and released these synthetic variants as “drugs.”
Top Phytotherapy Benefits
1. Science-Based Natural Medicine
What makes phytotherapy different than herbalism or herbal medicine is that it’s a science-based medical practice. Before releasing a phytoceutical product, the preparation undergoes clinical trials and rigorous biomedical studies.
With phytotherapy, it’s believed that you are getting the efficacy of pharmaceutical agents, with the safety and bioavailability of herbal medicine. This is because to make a phytoceutical preparation, different plants are frequently combined to maximize effectiveness and a very potent combination of compounds are used for their complementary effects.
2. Long History of Use
We know that plants have been used for healing since the Paleolithic days. There’s actually a long historical use of phytoceuticals in Indian, Chinese and native cultures. In fact, according to a historical review published in Pharmacognosy Review, “healing with medicinal plants is as old as mankind itself.” In the search for useful medicinal plants, mankind has learned to pursue healing compounds in barks, seeds, fruit bodies and other parts of plants.
This rich history in medicinal plants is like having human clinical trials going on for over thousands of years. In fact, some of the historical documentation of phytoceutical use is very detailed and close to modern science.
3. Non-Toxic and No Side Effects
Phytoceuticals are known to be safe and non-toxic, and when they are used appropriately, they do not cause any adverse side effects. In fact, chronic use of phytoceuticals is thought to be safe. The formulas found in phytoceuticals are lab tested and approved.
In few cases, however, phytotherapy preparations may cause allergic reactions, which depends on the users personal reaction to a specific plant extract.
Pharmaceutical drugs, which are synthetic versions of plant compounds, are sometimes rejected by the body as a xenobiotic or foreign substance. But our bodies accept plants as natural, which is why there are no toxic effects when we use them as medicine.
4. No “Tolerance” Effects
According to Dr. Joseph, phytoceuticals do not have the “tolerance” effect of pharmaceutical drugs. Tolerance is the diminishing marginal effectiveness of a drug over time. Over time, a person can have a diminished response to a drug as a result of repeated use. This often occurs with prescription medications and illicit drugs.
With phytoceuticals that are derived from actual plant molecules, you can use them consistently, over a long period of time. Your body accepts the medicine and doesn’t become tolerant or rejective.
Common Phytotherapy Products
Although most pharmaceutical agents developed in labs are synthetic, many drugs originate from natural products. For decades, plant extracts and their derivatives have received attention for their therapeutic effects in preventing and treating health problems.
There are hundreds of pharmaceutical drugs that have been derived from plants, including the following popular drugs:
- Morphine and Codeine — derived from the opium plant
- Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) and Methamphetamine — driven from the ephedra sinica plant
- Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) — comes from the willow bark tree
- Penicillin — came from the penicillium mold
Today, you can find phytoceutical products for purchase online and in health food stores. Dr. Joseph, for example, has a line of Phyto Farmacy products that are made with plant molecules. Some popular phytoceutical products are made with extracts from the Humulus plant (or hops) and cannabidiol. The combination of compounds is meant to be used for their healing properties.
There are also phytothrapy products that are designed to reduce high blood pressure, fight diabetes and help maintain human health. Phytoceutical products are commonly made with the herbs and spices that are popular in herbal medicine, including turmeric, tulsi, ginkgo biloba, ashwagandha, ginseng, ginger, curcumin and boswellia.
Phytotherapist Training and Where to Find
The best way to become a true phytotherapist is to complete a course, or get a diploma or degree in pharmacology. Then you can take a course in plant medicine or herbal medicine, as the scientific principles are the same.
But do be aware that there are many courses out there that offer a “diploma in phytotherapy,” but are really teaching traditional herbal medicine. There is a distinction between the two, as phytotherapy focuses on the scientific efficacy of specific plant molecules, especially when they are used in combination with other plant molecules.
One school that is currently offering courses in phytotherapy clinical practice is Pacific Rim College in Canada.
- Phytotherapy is the use of molecules derived from plants for the treatment and prevention of disease.
- While herbalism also involves using plant-based medicine for natural healing, phytotherapy is a science-based medical practice that depends on clinical trials and biomedical studies to formulate effective phytoceuticals.
- The potential benefits of phytotherapy include its science-backed approach to natural medicine, its long history, non-toxic effects, and lack of tolerance after long-term use.