Food - Herbal Medicines

Category: Food

Herbal Medicines Vs. Synthetic Drugs Which is Better?

Dyana Macalino   September 15, 2018

When it comes to taking care of our health, it is important the right medicines are taken when we are sick. We take ibuprofen for headaches, analgesics for flu, antihistamines for allergies, and other man made medicines for different maladies. But another popular product is herbal supplements. Some use ginkgo biloba to improve memory, garlic supplements to stabilize blood pressure, melatonin to help get better sleep, and fish oil supplements to improve cardio vascular heath. A long standing debate is on what type of medicine is better - herbal or synthetic medicines?

Herbal health products and supplements

Herbal medicines can come in the form of supplements, herbs, plant extracts or food. Before modern science, most people used readily available plants and food to cure their sicknesses. Herbal health products and supplements contain parts of the plant that can be used to treat health conditions and stay healthy. They come in the form of capsules, powder, tea bags, liquids, and tablets.


Just because herbal medicines come from nature does not mean they are always safer than over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicines. For example, the herbs kava and comfrey have been linked to liver damage. Most are marketed as “organic” and “natural” but these ingredients aren’t always natural to the human physiology. Some can cause negative health effects and researchers have looked at the numerous risks and benefits of a few health supplements, but many still need to be studied.


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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have complete control on all herbal supplements which are sold in the market because these are classified as a “food and dietary products”, not medicine. As a result, these do not undergo the same strict regulation as synthetic medications. It is up to the manufacturer to inform their consumers on the recommended dosage. To know which herbal products and food supplements are approved by the FDA, you may visit

Can herbal medicines affect the way OTC/prescription medicines work?

When herbal supplements are taken with prescription medicines, it is possible that this will affect the way the body processes medicines. When this happens, the synthetic medicine may not work the way it should. The body may not absorb a high enough dosage of the drug needed to treat the medical condition they prescribed for. This can result in serious health problems. If you are taking a prescription of OTC medicine, it is best to talk to your doctor before taking a type of herbal health product.


Organic supplements come with numerous health benefits. They contain fewer chemicals and the likelihood of causing irritation and allergies is less. People are more likely to respond adversely to synthetic drugs because of the chemical compounds found in them. Herbal supplements are good for maintaining health but they are not intended to treat a disease.

Synthetic medicines - advantages

Synthetic medicines are tightly regulated by the food and drug administration. Quality control is ensured and must undergo inspection before it is sold to the public. The ingredients in a medicine are all listed so you know what you are getting. Synthetic medicines have gone through scientific tests and have been proven to be effective. They also work faster and sometimes instantly. Man-made medicines have been used for decades to cure life-threatening condition including cancer, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and many others. Many individuals are saved daily because of prescription and OTC medicines.

Synthetic medicines - disadvantages

Because they are chemically made, some people can react negatively. Some can even damage the organs if taken long-term. There are also a few synthetic medicines that can cause addiction. Patients who need prescription drugs for short term use can find themselves being addicted to the drug. Some drugs used to treat insomnia and pain also double as narcotics and can risk the patient to become addicted. Man made medicines can also be misused. When a prescription is filled out, it is no longer under the doctor’s control. Some adults and teens can take prescription drugs not meant for them to experience the size effects. When these medicines are available at home, this can be shared among friends because of easy access.

The verdict

Both organic and synthetic medicines have their pros and cons. Synthetic drugs have the advantage of being controlled. Despite containing chemicals, they undergo strict testing to ensure it is fit for human consumption. Herbal medicines can contain unknown compounds, and vary in purity and potency depending on the manufacturer. They are not as standardized and tested as OTC and prescription medicines. Herbal medicines can also take longer to be effective compared to synthetic medicines which often work faster. There is a time and place for prescription drugs and herbal medicines. When in doubt, consult with your doctor to know which herbal supplement and synthetic medicine will help your condition and health.


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Dyana Macalino

Dyana Macalino is a writer and editor specialist in health, lifestyle
and food. Follow her at @DyanaMacalino

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