The Pharmacy Council has recently announced that they have made amendments to their code of ethics that allows pharmacists to sell complementary and alternative medicines alongside their pharmaceutical counterparts.
While plant medicine has been around for centuries, it is still popular among many cultures and communities today. The World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1993 reported that approximately 80 per cent of people worldwide use non-pharmaceutical medicines in state-sponsored primary healthcare or self-care.
In New Zealand approximately 50 per cent of adults in New Zealand may use natural health products (NHPs), of which plant medicines are the most popular form of self-medication according to research by Barnes, McLachlan, Sherwin and Enioutina in 2016. Furthermore, a 2017 report by the IRI, an ISO-certified Global Analytics Centre, on the New Zealand Pharmacy Retail Landscape showed 72 per cent of parents prefer to give children natural health products first before reaching for a conventional over-the-counter pharmaceutical product.
I am delighted with the Pharmacy's Council's future approach to health, which brings New Zealand in line with overseas countries such as Switzerland and Germany. It is fantastic that people now have the opportunity to speak to their pharmacists about the natural options that are proven to be effective in non-urgent situations and without the side effects of chemical medicines. This also helps individuals to take greater personal responsibility for their health and practice self-care by investing in preventative measures.
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Talking about natural healthcare, I would like to highlight an important distinction between traditional plant medicines and modern dietary supplements. While they are both often referred to as either complementary or alternative medicines, they are not the same.
Plant medicines have been around for millennia, share a long co-evolution with humans and are the foundation of their modern chemistry-based counterparts. They contain nourishing phytonutrients (naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and trace elements) as well as unique plant constituents that effectively re-balance and strengthen human physiology beyond a temporary nutrient boost. They are proven to be effective in many areas, including re-balancing hormones, aiding sleep, in depression or strengthening the immune system. Plant medicine can provide you with essential building blocks for organ health that cannot be found through diet alone, and have a cumulative effect on the body to help restore your physiology to the optimal levels.
It is important to choose a reputable brand to ensure you are using safe and effective plant medicines made from pure, high-quality ingredients. Look for companies that use medicinal grade plants, and source organic or wild-harvested ingredients that meet international quality standards.
Modern dietary supplements, by contrast, provide a boost of vitamins and minerals if someone cannot gain the required amount through their diet. For example, if you aren't getting enough vitamin C through an intake of citrus fruits, broccoli and leafy greens, you can "top up" your levels with a modern nutritional supplement which are usually made in the lab.
Seek the help of a pharmacist or registered medical herbalist before purchasing plant medicine formulations to ensure they are right for you and will have the most benefits based on what your health needs are.