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The Natural Pharmacist: Striking a Balance

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The Natural Pharmacist: Introducing Christopher Terf, R.Ph.

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May 2, 2001
Striking a Balance
With an emphasis on prevention, integrative medicine employs both alternative and conventional treatments

woman I'll call Anna came to my pharmacy recently wondering if she was having side effects from the birth control pills she's been taking for several months. She complained of feeling exhausted and said that she'd felt gradually more tired for about six weeks. I checked my computer to make sure she wasn't having a drug interaction and found she wasn't taking any other medications. Then I asked her if she was taking any herbal or vitamin supplements -- she told me she wasn't. Knowing that a common side effect of birth control pills is the depletion of some B vitamins, which can cause fatigue and even depression, I thought Anna may have a vitamin deficiency. I took her out to meet our nutritionist, who recommended that Anna take an over-the-counter vitamin supplement and see if her fatigue lifted. I assured her that the supplement was safe and recommended that she visit her doctor if she didn't feel better in a couple days. Three days later, Anna came back to thank us, saying that she felt normal again.

The Natural Pharmacist


By Christopher Terf, R.Ph.

Our team's approach is an example of integrative medicine, a strategy that works to maintain health using methods least apt to cause harm, be they conventional or alternative. Preventive therapies, such as proper nutrition and vitamin supplements, form the foundation of integrative medicine. For certain conditions, safe herbal therapies are recommended. If the condition doesn't improve, conventional therapies can provide more powerful -- and potentially more invasive -- cures.

It's not surprising that this approach is gaining popularity in this country; nearly one person in four uses alternative medicine in the United States. In fact, the amount of money spent on alternative medicine now rivals that spent on conventional medicine. And while more research is needed and valid safety concerns remain, many early results are promising. The scientific method, which brought us modern medicine, appears to be validating many alternative remedies -- echinacea and St. John's Wort, to name a couple.

Public interest in dietary supplements and alternative therapies signals a more proactive attitude among consumers toward wellness and illness prevention. This is great news. As a pharmacist and herbal medicine enthusiast, I want to convey the importance of balancing conventional and alternative strategies and encourage people to use them in an educated manner.

An essential premise of integrative medicine is that there is a time and place for both conventional and alternative therapies. Unlike those who practice or use alternative medicine exclusively, users of integrative medicine know that treating certain conditions requires the strength of conventional therapies. Too many users of conventional approaches, on the other hand, often lack interest in nutrition and healthy balance until sickness occurs. Illness forces these people to take a trip to the doctor and to the pharmacy for prescription and over-the-counter medicines. But after recovering, they often return to a relative disinterest in healthful living. It's an unfortunate cycle.


Unlike those who practice or use alternative medicine exclusively, users of integrative medicine know that treating certain conditions requires the strength of conventional therapies.


Integrative medicine users practice common sense and seek professional counsel. If prevention and supplementation fail, they go to the doctor. If antibiotics are required, they make a trip to the pharmacist, but they continue to get proper nutrition and use high-quality vitamins or herbal supplements to combat symptoms. They might take a probiotic to help prevent gastric distress caused by an antibiotic. (Probiotics help replace natural flora in the gut, which is destroyed by antibiotics.) During and after illness, preventive strategies continue to be used.

Keep in mind that herbal medicine and vitamin therapies can have serious interactions with conventional drug therapies. Do your research, stick with reputable brands, and always report the use of herbal and vitamin therapies to your doctor and to your pharmacist. If they appear disinterested or express disapproval, find a practitioner who is more knowledgeable. Doctors and pharmacists are, slowly but surely, becoming aware of and using alternative medicine. Many doctors are recommend alternative therapies, and some pharmacies are now employing the expertise of herbalists, nutritionists, and homeopaths to augment conventional therapies. Seek the services of such professionals, and reap the benefits of good health.

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Christopher Turf has been a registered pharmacist for 9 years and specializes in herbal/botanical medicine. He lives in the mountains near Boulder, Colorado with his wife Jenny, their son Cameron, a dog, and some chickens.