Biologically based practices typically use ingredients found in nature. They might include herbs, animal products, oils from trees and plants, foods such as berries and nuts, and vitamins derived from food and plants. For many of these natural substances, there is no scientific proof of efficacy, and products are sold based on hype alone. While it is generally agreed that some cultures use herbs and natural medicine successfully and have done so for thousands of years, it is also known that many of these so-called natural remedies in North America are simply rubbish. Most insidious are the plethora of "natural cures" for cancer.
Unfortunately, this area of alternative medicine attracts the worst kinds of individuals, particularly "snake oil sales people" who have nothing more to offer than a full-fledged scam. Basically, two problems exist with biologically based practices. First, many of the products have only trace amounts, or none of the ingredient and would not be able to help anyone even if there was scientific proof of success. Second, these scam artists, of which there are millions, prey upon a person's need to get better. Often people have debilitating or terminal illnesses and are so desperate to recover, they will try and believe anything.
Having said that, however, there are many documented instances where biologically based practices do provide a measure of success with certain conditions. Simple items such as peppermint leaves and ginger root are know to ease the stomach and reduce nausea. Garlic, in some individuals, can help to reduce blood pressure and has natural antibacterial properties. Tea tree oil may also have antibacterial properties but according to University of Ulster (UK) research, only when "appropriately used at high (bactericidal) concentrations".
Diet is another form of biologically based practice. It is widely accepted that by abstaining from certain types of foods, cholesterol can be prevented. Reducing salt intake reduces the chances of high blood pressure, and eating low fat foods reduces obesity, thereby preventing some of the associated ailments. Consuming foods high in fiber is known to aid many bodily functions and prevent disease.
Moreover, Orthomolecular Medicine, formalized by two-time Nobel Prize recipient, Linus Pauling, Ph.D., is considered a form of biologically based practice. The goal is to restore the body's deficiencies and imbalances by using natural elements such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, trace elements and fatty acids. Thus, dietary supplements fall into this category.
Finally, it is important to state that many people hold the misconception that because a substance is derived from nature, that is inherently safe. Like man-made drugs, herbs and naturally occurring medicines are just as dangerous in the wrong doses and when used for the wrong purposes. Some herbs have side effects and interact with other foods and drugs just like pills do. And some substances are toxic when taken in high doses.
Author's Footnote: The article is not meant to undermine natural remedies, as it is known that herbal medicine is the oldest form of medicine, and as such has considerable merit. Further, countries such as China and India use biologically based practices as their normal form of medicine. And in the European Union and Australia, herbs are regulated as drugs so they must adhere to certain standards. But, in the US and Canada, the industry is not regulated, and basically the use of natural remedies is at one's own discretion because the products are not standardized. In fact, one does not really know how much of the required substance or ingredient is in the bottle nor does one know if he/she is taking therapeutic doses that are indeed beneficial.