"Green medicine," which refers to herbal and Chinese medicine, has become another choice for Americans to keep them healthy, said Dr. Simon Barker, President of the California Naturopathic Doctors Association.
"I have definitely seen an increase of Americans who turn to naturopathic doctors and medicine to solve their health problems," Barker said in a recent interview with Xinhua.
According to Barker, naturopathic medicine includes traditional China medicine, such as herbal medicine, natural treatment and acupuncture, although he said there are different ways to use herbal medicine for treatment from Europe, Mideast and Asia. But traditional Chinese medicine is absolutely very influential in the United States and other countries.
Barker learned naturopathic medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. It is not easy to become a naturopathic doctor since it requires four years of medical education at postgraduate level medical schools.
A naturopathic doctor has to pass exams to get a doctor's license to practice in California and receive additional education to provide herbal medicine and other treatment such as acupuncture for patients.
In California and many other U.S. states, doctors can prescribe drugs and patients have to go to the pharmacy to buy drugs. However, naturopathic doctors can have their own stores to provide herbal and Chinese medicines to the patients.
Barker has practiced naturopathic medicine in Pasadena, California for 10 years. If he thinks herbal and Chinese medicine will do better with his patients, he would suggest them to have a try, and there is an increase of patients who prefer herbal and Chinese medicine.
He said most of his patients are non-Chinese, but they want to try the Chinese way of treatment.
A study entitled "Herbal Medicine in the United States: Review of Efficacy, Safety, and Regulation" by Stephen Bent from University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, showed that herbal products have gained increasing popularity in the United States in the last decade, and are now used by approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population.
Herbal products are complex mixtures of organic chemicals that may come from any raw or processed part of a plant, including leaves, stems, flowers, roots, and seeds.
However, under the current U.S. law, herbs are defined as dietary supplements, and manufacturers can therefore produce, sell, and market herbs without first demonstrating safety and efficacy, as is required for pharmaceutical drugs. Another report said that there are about 20,000 herbal products in the United States.
Actually, most of the herbal and Chinese medicines are used in the country in the form of dietary and nutrition or food supplements.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), annual sales of nutritional supplements exceed 23 billion dollars in the country. Therefore, it is a big business.
David Hsu, President of the Asian Nutrition & Health Association headquartered in Los Angeles, told Xinhua that prescription drugs are not versatile while herbal and Chinese medicine can play some role in treatment of certain diseases. More Americans have now turned to alternative medicines, and Chinese medicine is one of them.
He said most prescription drugs are from chemicals and have side effects. When people are turning to green energy to save the earth, more Americans like to try a more natural way to treat diseases, and herbal and Chinese medicines are their choices.
However, since the U.S. law defines herbs as nutritional supplements, herbal and Chinese medicine can only be sold and marketed here in the form of nutritional supplements but not in the form of drugs.
The requirements for any naturopathic doctors to take four years of postgraduate medical schools have stopped many experienced Chinese medicine doctors from China from practicing in the United States, and some Chinese Americans who have Chinese medicine experience can only practice acupuncture since the acupuncture license is relatively easy to get approved.
Hsu said although Chinese and herbal medicine is not listed as drugs, that does not mean that the United States has no quality control over it. The FDA will check all the herbal and Chinese medicines to see if they are up to the U.S. food standard. Manufacturers in the country have to be more careful to avoid any lawsuit.
He said any lawsuit will make the manufacturers go bankruptcy. Therefore, they have to stick to the FDA requirements and make sure that those herbal and Chinese medicines will not cause any health problems.
K.T. Leung, who has been appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as the commissioner of the Naturopathic Medicine Committee in California, told Xinhua that his committee regulates all herbal, Chinese and naturopathic medicine.
He said naturopathic medicine has a long history in the world, and since it has proved effective to many diseases, more Americans like to try it.
According to Leung, since herbs are grown in the field, they are also treated as agricultural products and regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA.