The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)


Therapeutic outcomes of medicinal plant applications in three cultural groups

ROBERT A. HALBERSTEIN.

Anthropology, University of Miami

Saturday All day, Plaza Level Add to calendar

Medicinal plant products have been successfully administered for a wide range of health problems cross-culturally since prehistoric times, and toxic side-effects have also been recorded. The safety and effectiveness of several herbal medications were evaluated with original data collected in interviews with 14 traditional healers and their patients in Caribbean and Caribbean-American populations and a survey of 92 medicinal plant shops (“botanicas”) in Miami, FL.

84% of the Caribbean respondents (N=286) age 21-84 from The Bahamas and 65% of Caribbean-American subjects in Miami (N=290) age 21-85 representing 17 Caribbean countries of origin reported regular usage of botanical medicines for disorders ranging from flatulence and dandruff to cancer and AIDS, and the medicaments were cited as particularly effective in the management of chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, hypertension, arthritis, insomnia, and depression. Phytochemical assays of botanical specimens obtained from the botanicas indicate the presence of curative bioactive pharmaceutical constituents as claimed. Preparation procedures, including boiling, dilution, the use of additives, and the combination of multiple herbs, serve to enhance phytochemical bioavailability while simultaneously reducing or neutralizing potential toxicity. In some cases the healers recommend the consumption of specific raw plant parts.

A double-blind experiment which tested the effectiveness of over-the-counter homeopathic Bach® Flower Remedies involving a sample of 111 Americans age 18-49 and weighing 87-251 pounds revealed statistically significant differences between treatment and placebo-control groups with respect to the outcomes of standardized stress tests. Gender, age, and body weight were not correlated with test results.

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