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Medical Doctors Know Little about Herbal Medicine – Results of a UK Survey

A survey conducted in January 2010 by the UK-based Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin found that 75.5% of responding doctors feel they are poorly informed about herbal medicine.

The DTB study was sent to a random sample of DTB subscribers and a total of 164 responses were received.  Approximately 50% of respondents were general physicians and 87.8% were based in the UK.

Despite the low number of responses to the survey (only 14% of surveys were completed and returned) the responses demonstrated a considerable lack of general knowledge in the medical community regarding herbal medicine.

While 75.3% of doctors felt that herbal medicines may be useful in some circumstances, they also felt an almost equal percentage of doctors (75.5%) are poorly informed about herbal medicines.  Equally troubling is that 50% of doctors would use Google or other internet search engines to seek reliable information on the use and safety of herbal medicines.  And less than 13% of doctors who responded always ask their patients if they are using herbal medicines, despite the knowledge that the potential for drug-herbal interactions does exist.

Doctors know little about the safe use of herbal medicine

Unfortunately, many people consider their medical doctor to be a reliable source of information on herbal medicine and other natural supplements.  And shown in this survey, doctors are not always a reliable source of information on the safe and effective use of herbal medicine.  Nor is Google or other internet search engines.  Michael McIntyre, chairman of the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association has this to say on the use of Google:

“I would suggest that that’s a terrible source of information where herbal medicine is concerned.  You could get terrible information, wrong information, and I certainly wouldn’t advise patients to do that so I wouldn’t advise doctors to do it either.”

There are many issues with seeking information on herbal medicine online.  There is a lot of confusing and contradictory information online, posted by unreliable sources posing as authorities on herbal and natural medicine.  However, this survey shows that many doctors (and likely many patients) are unsure where to get reliable information on herbal medicine.

My suggestion for those looking for safe, reliable, and effective information on herbal medicine is to seek out a Naturopathic Doctor or herbalist who is highly trained in the use of herbal medicines and can provide you with information regarding safety, drug-herb interactions, potential side effects and safe dosage recommendations.

If you are still interested in seeking information online about herbal medicines I recommend the following resources:

American Botanical Council homepage of the non-profit American Botanical Council, publishers of HerbalGram

HerbMed – provides free monographs on the 20 most popular herbal medicines

PubMed – to search for published articles on the use of herbal medicines

World Health Organization (WHO)Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants

Ontario Herbalist Association – for information on registered herbalists in Ontario

Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctorsfor information on licensed Naturopathic Doctors in Ontario

Resources

Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB) Survey on Herbal Medicines. Drug Ther Bull. 2010;48(4):46–47.

Herbal medicines – what do clinicians know [podcast]? London, England, United Kingdom: Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin. April 8, 2010.

A survey conducted in January 2010 by the UK-based Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin found that 75.5% of responding doctors feel they are poorly informed about herbal medicine.

The DTB study was sent to a random sample of DTB subscribers and a total of 164 responses were received.Approximately 50% of respondents were general physicians and 87.8% were based in the UK.

Despite the low number of responses to the survey (only 14% of surveys were completed and returned) the responses demonstrated a considerable lack of general knowledge in the medical community regarding herbal medicine.

While 75.3% of doctors felt that herbal medicines may be useful in some circumstances, they also felt an almost equal percentage of doctors (75.5%) are poorly informed about herbal medicines.Equally troubling is that 50% of doctors would use Google or other internet search engines to seek reliable information on the use and safety of herbal medicines.And less than 13% of doctors who responded always ask their patients if they are using herbal medicines, despite the knowledge that the potential for drug-herbal interactions does exist.

Unfortunately, many people consider their medical doctor to be a reliable source of information on herbal medicine and other natural supplements.And shown in this survey, doctors are not always a reliable source of information on the safe and effective use of herbal medicine.Nor is Google or other internet search engines.Michael McIntyre, chairman of the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association has this to say on the use of Google:

“I would suggest that that’s a terrible source of information where herbal medicine is concerned.You could get terrible information, wrong information, and I certainly wouldn’t advise patients to do that so I wouldn’t advise doctors to do it either.”

There are many issues with seeking information on herbal medicine online.There is a lot of confusing and contradictory information online, posted by unreliable sources posing as authorities on herbal and natural medicine.However, this survey shows that many doctors (and likely many patients) are unsure where to get reliable information on herbal medicine.

My suggestion for those looking for safe, reliable, and effective information on herbal medicine is to seek out a Naturopathic Doctor or herbalist who is highly trained in the use of herbal medicines and can provide you with information regarding safety, drug-herb interactions, potential side effects and safe dosage recommendations.

If you are still interested in seeking information online about herbal medicines I recommend the following resources:

American Botanical Council – homepage of the non-profit American Botanical Council, publishers of http://abc.herbalgram.org

HerbMed – provides free monographs on the 20 most popular herbal medicines – http://www.herbmed.org/top20.asp

PubMed – to search for published articles on the use of herbal medicines – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/

World Health Organization (WHO) – Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants – http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/1999/9241545178.pdf

Ontario Herbalist Association – for information on registered herbalists in Ontario – http://www.herbalists.on.ca/

Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors – for information on licensed Naturopathic Doctors in Ontario – www.oand.org

Resources

Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB) Survey on Herbal Medicines. Drug Ther Bull. 2010;48(4):46–47.

Herbal medicines – what do clinicians know [podcast]? London, England, United Kingdom: Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin. April 8, 2010.

Lisa Watson

Dr. Lisa Watson is a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is a passionate writer and speaker and encourages her patients and readers to embrace their full, amazing, health potential. You can follow Dr. Watson on twitter at @drlisawatson or contact her at drlisa@drlisawatson.com.

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