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Conventionally Clinging to the Conventional

Nurses Article   (2,476 Views 2 Replies 1,099 Words)
by steven007 steven007 (Member)

7 Articles; 12,612 Profile Views; 116 Posts

Discussing herbal supplementation's role in nursing care.

Conventionally Clinging to the Conventional

In this day and age there is a growing population of elderly and chronically ill patients. With major chronic illnesses like major depressive disorder, coronary artery disease and HIV; people are relying more and more on pharmaceuticals to sustain, enhance and control their life, effectively reducing morbidity related to their chronic illness.

This seems pretty straightforward and apodictic, right? Wrong. Recently we have been seeing the emergence of different and untreatable strains of viruses and bacteria that are unresponsive to conventional therapies. We are also seeing skyrocketing prices of these drugs! In fact, anti-HIV medication alone can cost a person well over 20,000$ USD a year, depending on which country they live in and the extent of their infection. With the current financial state of the world, even the cheapest of medications are expenses people can't afford. Furthermore, the situation is complicated by the fact that there is a growing lack of availability of physicians.

All of this has great implications for nurses. Nurses more than ever are involved with a wide variety of patients with a vast variety of ailments. In fact, sometimes the nurse is relied on as a primary health care provider, in situations (for example, in rural communities) where physicians are scarce to none. This not only means that a nurse has to be well versed in her pathology, but it also means that a nurse needs to be resourceful.

Part of being resourceful is having an open mind and accepting new ideas. What I am talking about is the utilization of herbal (otherwise known as unconventional) therapies as both primary and adjuvant therapy for different physical ailments. There is much research on different herbal supplements, most of which are very promising!

HIV is a hot topic these days. I recently read an article in the news talking about the health promotion idea of "treatment as prevention" for HIV, using anti-retroviral HIV medications as a preventative measure for high-risk HIV groups. This article appalled me personally, because implementing these drugs as part of prevention, not only statistically increases the risk of developing a drug resistant HIV strain, but anti-HIV drugs have a nice repertoire of side effects and complications that follow after prolonged use.

Thus, welcome alternative therapies. I read a book by an MD and ND (naturopathic doctor) about different, alternative therapies for various illnesses, one of which being HIV. Among the suggested medications was Ginseng. Curious as to logic behind why Ginseng was recommended for HIV, I used EBSCO to conduct a literature review. What I found was pretty shocking, I found numerous studies supporting the use of Ginseng as an effective therapy for treating patients with HIV.

There were a few studies conducted by Korean researchers. One study was conducted by a group of Korean physicians in the early 90s. The physicians used Korean Red Ginseng (KRG) as adjuvant therapy. They had a control group (group of HIV positive people only receiving anti-retroviral therapy) and a testing group (group of HIV positive people receiving both anti-retroviral therapy and KRG). What they found was that, statistically speaking, the individuals treated with both conventional and KRG therapies were less likely to develop drug resistant HIV strains, had stable CD4 (T-Helper cell) counts and remained relatively asymptomatic.

Another study conducted in Korea used newly diagnosed HIV patients. The HIV virus was not progressed enough to merit the initiation of treatment with anti-HIV medications (their CD4 counts were not low enough), so they divided the group up to a group that did not receive any therapy and a group that received only KRG. What they found was after 3 years of untreated HIV the group receiving the KRG had really no significant change in their CD4 counts compared to the group that did not receive the KRG, who then had CD4 levels meriting the need for anti-HIV medications.

These studies are extremely significant and why Ginseng has not been recommended by health care professionals as adjuvant therapy for HIV is beyond me. But nurses need to be well versed in this kind of research and be able to suggest adjuvant therapies to patients, as long as they do not conflict with other diagnosed treatments. But Ginseng is a well tolerated herb with little to no drug interactions at all.

A barrier that I see with bringing herbal medications in as both primary and adjuvant therapy is ignorance and suppression that herbal medications receive. For the most part, the general public of Western society believes that the health care professional knows best, the only cure and the only treatment being what is stashed behind a counter at your local pharmacy. I have no idea where this idea stems from and if people were not so ignorant to their own health, they probably would realize that alternative treatments could really help enhance their quality of life.

Thus comes the moral of this article and the reason why it is posted on a nursing site. Nurses, please. Do your research and learn about alternative therapies. Nurses are one of the most patient-centered health care professionals in the entire health care system. Not only that but the public has great trust for nurses and great respect. They reach the majority of people, even before physicians and have a great amount of authority and knowledge. Not only that, but unlike physicians (who constantly receive bonuses and incentives from pharmaceutical corporations) nurses remain relatively objective and neutral to drugs and it is their job to lookout and advocate for the patient's best interest.


I will post some article titles below that have guided this article. I also will give you the name of a book I have looked over and highly recommend for any nurse interested in alternative therapies. The book is basically like a drug dictionary only for alternative therapies and allows you to look up either by herbal alternative or by condition. It gives you an in-depth description of the herbal supplement and gives you all dosage information. I really recommend it!

The book is: Solve it With Supplements by Robert A. Schulman (MD).


Beneficial effects of a combination of Korean red ginseng and highly active antiretroviral therapy in human immunodeficiency virus type 1-infected patients by Sung H; Jung US; Cho UK.

Immunomodulatory and Antimicrobial Effects of Some Traditional Chinese Medicinal Herbs: A Review by Benny K.H. Tan and J. Vanitha

Steven, BSN, MSN, RN

7 Articles; 12,612 Profile Views; 116 Posts

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No Stars In My Eyes has 43 years experience and specializes in Med nurse in med-surg., float, HH, and PDN.

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There really is alot of resistance in the medical field to herbal treatments. Over the years I've had patients who were 'old-timey' country folks who often did their own herbal-thing with info handed down through the generations in their families Though this is not quite the same thing you were writing about, it is a sort of disappearing resource. What I saw sometimes helped but seldom harmed; Dr's were either privvy to the patients using the treatments, or purposely left out of the loop because of their prejudices against folk medicine. I agree that it needs to be a case of joined effort of all involved. / I have to add this somewhat off-topic aside....the oddest "remedy" I ever heard of or observed was rendered groundhog fat (!) which was used as a general cure-all by one 80+ year old woman and her two HUGE hardworking sons. They claimed that whenever they felt like they might be coming down with something ( respiratory, gastrointestinal) or just feeling "puny" they would take a teaspoon of the stuff and were totally restored. I'd heard of snake-oil, but never "whistle-pig" oil! / Thanks for the references at the end of your article; I'll look into them. I feel like there is much helpful information ignored because minds are closed to the possibility that doctors, pharmacy and the world of medicine DON"T know everything. Just reading drug reference books should clue us in: HOW a medication works is 'not known', such-and-such a medication is 'thought to' do this-or-that, or 'MAY' cause one-thing-or-another to occur. That to me is just a scary as anything else! That EVERYTHING possible wouldn't be used against HIV, as with the ginseng, is unbelievable!

Edited by No Stars In My Eyes

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Thanks for the comment! It is really interesting indeed to hear some people's beliefs of herbal medications! My best friend's (who is a nurse as well) mother makes mushroom milk, she basically ferments mushrooms and drinks it once a month. She says it tastes awful but it has kept her healthy! Haha, I'm not sure I'd be willing to do that, but as far as the ginseng goes, I am with you! I can't believe that they wouldn't use ginseng as a supplementary treamtent! They even understand the mechanism of action with ginseng! It up regulates IL-6 and 12 which are responsible for maturing and producing T and b cells!

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