Every day, millions of people take high blood pressure medicine, aspirin, anti-depressants, sleep aids, nasal decongestants or other pills. According to Dr. P. Yutsis, more than 150,000 Americans died last year from taking the wrong prescription drugs or from the serious side effects of drugs. In the U.S. we take more drugs than any other country and live shorter lives! Europe averages 46 percent less drug use than the

U.S., Japan 80 percent less and China 95 percent less. What’s wrong with this picture?

The reason for this difference is simple: choices. The use of herbs and natural medicines is considerably higher in Europe and Asia, where options are available to try the less invasive therapies before venturing into complex drug treatments. Many cultures use natural remedies and herbs first for adverse health conditions. Having choices is a key factor.

Let us empower ourselves by continuing to explore the use of herbs. Charoula Dontopoulos, a certified herbalist and polarity practitioner, continues her exploration of herbal healing:

Modern medicine tells us that drugs are safer and more effective than herbs. The claim stems from the fact that pharmaceutical companies submit their products to extensive testing, often for eight to 12 years, at astronomical costs which are eventually passed on to the consumers.

In the Encyclopedia of Popular Herbs, Robert Pinco, one-time director of the Food and Drug Administration’s over-the-counter drug review process, explains that more than 75 percent of common medications did not meet rigorous standards. Of those drugs approved by the FDA, more than half were found to have serious safety problems after they were on the market. According to the same source, reactions to FDA-approved medications kill over 100,000 Americans annually and injure 2 million more. By comparison, serious problems with herbs are rare.

To understand the difference between drugs and herbs, let’s focus on how they work.

Pharmaceutical drugs are highly purified, potently concentrated chemicals that act by blocking processes of the body. This often gets rid of the symptoms but may create undesired side effects. Anti-congestants will clear your nose, but cause drowsiness. Prolonged use of non-steroids temporarily ease your arthritis pain, but may adversely affect your liver.

When we drink a tea or take a tincture of an herb, we are taking in the whole plant, with thousands of compounds. Although plants contain unique ingredients which give them specific effects, it is the combination of all these compounds that accounts for a plant’s effectiveness and safety. The concept that a plant is more than the sum total of all its parts is known as synergy. Synergy means compounds work together to boost the power of plants and offset actions of unsafe constituents.

To illustrate, there is no evidence that hypericin, the so-called active ingredient in St. John’s wort, is really an anti-depressant. It is the synergistic effect of the whole plant that helps with depression. Ephedrine, the constituent in ephedra, will raise heart rate and blood pressure in concentrated extract doses, but this is counteracted in the whole tea by pseudoephedrine which lowers those body functions.

In their wholeness, plants work by effecting favorable changes in our physiology, allowing the body to return to a balanced state. In the holistic tradition, the body knows how to heal itself and will do so given proper assistance. Herbs are our allies in this process.

Some herbs have immediate results. Three or four cups of slippery elm bark tea soothe the digestive and intestinal tract and help improve an irritable colon. Echinacea and goldenseal help fight common colds. Valerian helps relieve stress and anxiety.

Most herbs, however, act over a long a period of time, and their strength is in nutritional value and prevention. Herbs are foods that build up our body and correct underlying problems, with less risk than synthetic drugs. Astragalus, a time-honored Chinese herb, builds the immune system by stimulating white blood cell production. A few cloves of garlic a day lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels. Ginseng, the whole root, strengthens our ability to cope with stress.

According to Dr. Rudolph Ballentine, author of Radical Healing, “To heal is to make whole, and part of our wholeness is our connection to the plant life of the planetê Using

plants as medicine is simply a means of reasserting that connection and revitalizing our participation [in the planetary whole].”

The next installments of “Healing” will deal with chronic fatigue and winter care. It may seem too early to start thinking about winter, but fall is the best time to prepare your body to fight off winter flu and colds. We do have health care choices and having these choices empowers us to heal.

May the longtime sun shine upon you.