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Herbal Medicines: Can We Do without Pharmacologist?

DOI: 10.1093/ecam/nem095

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Abstract:

The increase of herbal medicine use led many scientists to contribute to the research in this field. Also a few pharmacologists, after an initial phase of correct criticisms, today recognize the possibility of investigating the scientific value of medicinal products composed essentially of vegetable extracts. However, it is logical to pose the questions: (i) is there a role for the pharmacologist in herbal medicine (or phytotherapy)? (ii) can we do without pharmacologists’? First, two worlds—drug researchers (pharmacologists) and herbal medicines—yesterday appearing in opposition, are today closer and it is not unusual to read scientific works describing herbal extracts in journals traditionally dedicated to the study of synthetic drugs. Second, clinical application of herbal medicines is evaluable through the methods of modern clinical pharmacology. Efficacy and safety of medicinal plants represent naturally the object of interest for the pharmacologist and it is surely this aspect which gives the most important information on herbal medicine use. Many plants have been studied and results published showing, one time good or another poor, efficacy. Safety aspects of some of the most frequently used plants are now well known. For example, today we learn to use hypericum and we do not give it to patients taking other drugs because the interactions of hypericum with them. Contraindications of other plants, often represented by interactions with drugs, are finally known (Ginkgo biloba and drugs acting on blood coagulation). In conclusion, antagonistic behavior of pharmacologists versus herbal medicines is not useful. On the contrary, modern phytotherapy needs the contribution of researchers usually trained to evaluate efficacy and safety of medicinals.

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