Medical Agriculture Development and Cultivation Association

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Addressing the Challenges of Phytotherapy

Aloe Vera Phytotherapy
Western culture is currently experiencing a resurgence of interest in herbal medicine, and many phytotherapeutic products are proving to be powerful and effective tools utilized as part of individual and community health programs. In countries such as the US, where the cost of prescription medications continues to rise along with the epidemic of opioid abuse, patients and medical practitioners alike are embracing more traditional, holistic approaches to comprehensive wellness. By combining increased activity and healthier diet choices with mindful, cognitive practices such as meditation, the goal is to not only increase the years in people’s lives but also the quality of life in those years. This proliferation of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) over the past few decades in the US has been evident across all segments of the population, from ‘millennials’ spending more on health and wellness than any prior generation while also being the most socially conscious consumers, to ‘Baby Boomers’ advancing into their retirement years, seeking natural alternatives to over-prescribed, over-priced synthetic drugs, and everyone else in between.

We also live in an age of information, where patients have the ability to conjure magnitudes of data with only a few keystrokes, however the validity and value of that data is often circumspect, and the truth of scientific evidence is often difficult for even the savviest of consumers to discern. Additionally, despite growing popularity, many individuals have yet to be dispossessed of the modern notion that plant-based medicines are not as ‘scientific’ and are therefore less effective than conventional pharmaceuticals or manufactured drugs. In order to address these challenges to phytotherapy, it is incumbent upon the professionals within the industry to not only cultivate and manufacture medicinal plants in such a way as to minimize contaminants, but also to collectively develop the information, technology and processes required to validate phytotherapy and see it become part of mainstream medicine. This can only be accomplished through the creation and implementation of procedures to capture the metrics necessary to enable evidence-based research. Once collected, the data must be analyzed, and all processes and outcomes refined in continual process improvement, with the dual objectives of increased efficacy and reduced variance in the phytotherapeutic products.

To move phytotherapy from the fringes into full acceptance and integration with conventional, Western medicine, the industry will need to put the science first, and share the results. Despite a long history of utilizing plants in medicine and healing, the focus of modern medical science has been on identifying and then isolating only those individual elements perceived to be most efficacious in producing the desired outcome. This approach, while minimizing the variation that occurs naturally in the cultivation of plants within and between harvests, precludes the cumulative effects, or synergies, that are produced when whole-plant extraction is utilized. To date, this concept of the ‘entourage effect’ remains largely anecdotal, however newly emerging markets within the industry indicate significant interest in generating evidence of this theory within commercially available medicinal plants.

It is imperative that the companies and investors seeking to profit from the production of phytotherapeutic products invest in collaborative research, utilizing meta-data from across the industry, to produce controlled clinical trials and/or pharmacological studies. However, as with the basic tenant of all research, “garbage in equals garbage out”. In other words, research results are not simply dependent upon the strength and methodology of the analysis but are also only as good as the manner under which the input data was collected. Though employing current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) are essential, in order to advance phytotherapy in the US, the industry cannot merely acquiesce to the minimums established for regulatory compliance of dietary supplements. Agricultural and manufacturing companies and research organizations in the industry must go the proverbial extra mile to implement standard operating procedures in accordance with the stricter regulatory requirements of traditional pharmacology. Results garnered under these structured and repeatable circumstances can be successfully utilized to validate current theories regarding synergistic or adaptogenic effects from plants versus isolated, amplified active ingredients, whether extracted or synthesized. Ultimately, the result of such investments will provide patients with greater relief and peace of mind, knowing that their products are safe, reliable and effective.