Alternative Medicine

There is unprecedented demand for natural drugs, green health products, pharmaceuticals, nutrition supplements, cosmetics, and herbal pesticides, which is bringing about this alarming loss of plant biodiversity. It is valued that 70-80% of people worldwide rely mainly on traditional, largely herbal medicine to meet their primary healthcare needs (Farnsworth and Soejarto, 1991; Shengji, 2001).

Alternate medication like Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani, where therapeutic agents are derivative from plants, contribute not only to the public health of developing countries but also to the established ones. In such systems skilled physicians or Traditional Medicine Practitioners (TMPs) concoct the remedial plant mixtures separately, considering both the disease and the constitution of the patient.

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The use of such alternative medicines has become 11 increasingly popular in the developed world. For example, one in three Americans have at some time used unconventional medical therapies according to a national telephone survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993. In another survey conducted in 1994, it was found that 60% of clinicians had at some time discussed patients to practitioners of other remedy.

In response to the overwhelming interest in alternative remedies, many of the prestigious allopathic therapeutic institutions have also had their importance documented; an example is the National Institute of Health in USA, which produced the Office of Alternative Medicine in 1991 to provide the public with information on alternate treatments and to assess those remedies which have proven efficacious (Kolata, 1996).

Recent allopathic medication too owes an immense debt to therapeutic plants. One in four prescriptions filled in a country like the USA are either a manufactured form of or derived from plant resources (Lambert et al., 1997). Medicinal plants are gaining importance in health care. Most of the world population is dependent upon traditional plant-based medicines. Many medicinal herbs and spices, which find place in our daily use, are used as herbal remedies. These are not only cheaper but are often the medicines accessible easily in remote areas. 

Plants synthesize a wide variety of natural products which are valuable sources for maintaining human health. About 80% of the world’s population use traditional medicines, which are active constituents derived from medicinal plants. Medicinal plant species are used by all sectors of people as folk remedies or in different indigenous systems of medicine or in the pharmaceutical preparations of modern medicines. 

The study of traditional human use of plants is recognized as an effective way to discover future medicines. Traditional systems of medicine are widely practiced due to variety of reasons. Treatment cost, side effects, population rise, inadequate supply of drugs and resistance development for infectious diseases have all contributed for the increased interest in natural products as a source of medicines. 

Use of herbs to treat diseases is often considered as more affordable than purchasing expensive modern pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical companies use the active ingredients of plants rather than the whole plants. Plant phytochemicals affect the human body through processes identical to the conventional drugs; thus herbal medicines do not differ from conventional drugs in terms of their mechanism of action. Plant products today symbolize safety when compared to the synthetics which are as unsafe to human as also to environment. 

Herbal Medicine is distinct as a branch of science in which plant based formulations are used to alleviate ailment. It was also known as botanical medicine or phyto-medicine. Recently phyto-therapy has been presented as more accurate synonym of herbal or botanical medicine. In the early twentieth century herbal medicine was prime healthcare system as antibiotics or analgesics were not as yet revealed. With the advent of allopathic system of medicine, herbal medicine slowly lost its popularity among people, which is based on the fast therapeutic activities of synthetic drugs (Singh 2007).

Traditionally, mankind has been reliant on plants for food, flavors, homeopathic and many extra uses. Ancient written records of many developments (i.e. Egyptian, Roman, and Chinese) give strong evidence regarding use of medicinal plant (Cowan, 1999), for example ayurveda booklets highest the use of medicinal plants to cure many diseases [Micke et al, 2009: Patwardhan et al, 2005].

Use of plants as a source of medicine is an ancient practice which is an important component for health care system in India. In India, Ayurveda, Unani and Sidda systems of medicines are considered as major systems of indigenous medicines and have been in practice for thousands of years. The basis of these systems was available from early Sanskrit writings such as the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda.

In India system of medicine used by Ayurveda around 700 species, 700 species in Unani, and 600 species in Siddha system. Ayurveda, the oldest medical system in Indian subcontinent, has alone reported approximately 2,000 medicinal plant species, followed by the Siddha and Unani medical systems. The Charak Samhita, an age-old written document on herbal therapy, reports on the production of 340 herbal drugs for curing various diseases (Prajapati et al., 2003).

Traditional medicine Plants have been exploited as medicines for thousands of years (Samuelsson, 2004). These medicines initially took the form of crude drugs such as tinctures, teas, poultices, powders, and other herbal constructions (Balick and Cox, 1997; Samuelsson, 2004). The exact plants to be used and the methods of claim for particular diseases were passed down through verbalized tradition. Eventually information regarding medicinal plants was recorded in herbal pharmacopoeias (Balunas, 2005).

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