I have looked at the scientific evidence supporting the medicinal properties of herbs now for several years as I researched for my books.
Scientific studies on the majority of herbs included in Ayurveda and TCM formulations have been carried out. The experiments are majorly restricted to animal trials. In some cases, where the evidence is strong, studies have progressed to human clinical trials, isolation of therapeutic molecules, and final conversion of these molecules into modern medicine. Herbal medicines in India and China receive regulatory approval for medicinal use from national regulators. For instance, the Government of India Ayurveda body – Ayush – has developed a polyherbal combination sold under the brand name – Ayush 82 for treating diabetes. This formulation contains Syzygium cumini, Momordica charantia, Gymnema sylvestre.
Research conferences focusing on medicinal plants are held by the dozen each year. Most of these are organized in parts of the world where research activity is high. Such conferences are particularly popular with natural product scientists, who find these a great opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other.
Over 60% of currently used anticancer agents are derived from natural sources such as plants, marine organisms, and microorganisms (Newman et al., 2003). Vinca (Catharanthus roseus or Vinca rosea, the Madagascar periwinkle) is one of the earliest sources of vinca alkaloids, vinblastine, and vincristine. These molecules are used in chemotherapy. Semisynthetic derivatives of these alkaloids have since been developed.
Another class of anticancer drugs, the podophyllotoxins, were isolated from the resin of Podophyllum peltatum. Clinical use of these classes of medicines has since been suspended. This molecule was observed to have severe side effects. Semisynthetic derivatives have also been developed.
International acceptance of the clinical efficacy and safety of these formulations is absent.
Most prescription of Ayurveda and TCM formulations continues to be based on ancient medicinal practices that modern scientific experiments have not yet validated. Hundreds of anecdotal statements are spread throughout the internet. These claim miraculous healing properties of a herb or herbal combination.
People desperate for a cure try these combinations. Many find themselves psychologically cured of the ailment. Others are disappointed. One of my close colleagues, India’s top medicinal plant expert, passed away, believing that Ayurveda formulations would cure his cancer.
Herbs do possess medicinal properties. These properties have to be scientifically investigated. The molecules responsible for the therapeutic action have to be identified. These molecules then have to go through a cycle of tests and trials before they can be declared safe and effective for you.
Herbal medicine systems are great foundational material for scientists to study and identify cures for ailments. But most herbal medicine practitioners are stuck in ancient practices which are likely to cause you more harm than benefit.
The bottom line, ask for the science supporting the medicinal cure offered by a herbal hypothecary. If the individual cannot provide a convincing answer, you should use your common sense and go to a science-supported healer.