Clinical Immunology and Traditional Herbal Medicines
The use of herbs to treat illness has its roots in an ancient holistic healing tradition that originated in Asia more than 3,000 years ago.Largely discounted by 19th and 20th century practitioners of Western medicine, healing practices incorporating herbal remedies, such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Japanese Kampo, and Indian Ayurveda, are rapidly gaining acceptance in the West as we enter the 21st century.
Herbal medicines are complex mixtures of minimally processed medicinal plants (e.g., plant parts that are boiled to make a tea). In conjunction with other components of traditional healing philosophies, such as acupuncture or massage, herbal medicines are used to treat a large range of symptoms and ailments, including liver disease, asthma, and other immune problems, menstrual problems, colds, headaches, and various cancers.
Immunologists who undertake the study of herbal medicines will face challenges, as well as opportunities. Almost surely, research into the immunomodulatory properties and mechanisms of action of herbal medicines will provide new insights into immune function and possible avenues of immunotherapy. But such research also will require a fresh perspective and an open mind. In an era of increasingly detailed molecular studies of drug mechanisms, the investigation of the properties of crude herbal extracts may seem a step back in time.
Journal of Clinical Immunology and infectious diseases
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