It seems like there's a pill for everything.
The ancient proverb asked: Why should a man die when he has sage growing in his garden? A modern version might be: Why should a man die when he has Pharmacare? Or why should he go bald when he can get a Rogaine prescription? Or be lonely if he can get a prescription for Viagra?
And what about the pills envisioned by futurists, the ones that will make you instantly more intelligent?
Chad Cornell insists he's "not anti-conventional medicine or anti-pharmaceuticals." But he says that if we want optimal health, we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.
Botanical medicine makes intuitive sense, says the master herbalist and owner of Hollow Reed Holistic, located in the heart of Wolseley.
"If there were no plant kingdom, there would be no animal kingdom," Cornell says. "Plants provide us with air, food, clothing and shelter. Is it so surprising that they provide us with medicine?"
Not to the 80 per cent of the planet's population the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates still rely on plants and herbal medicine for some aspect of their primary health care.
While Cornell acknowledges the reason for that is largely economic -- pharmaceuticals are prohibitively expensive in parts of the world where people live on less than US$2 a day -- the WHO website, he says, also reports that in many developed countries, 70 to 80 per cent of the population has used some form of alternative or complementary medicine (for example, acupuncture) and that herbal treatments are "the most popular form of traditional medicine and are highly lucrative in the international marketplace."
"All of these things which seem new and fringey to the Canadian Prairies have been practised for centuries around the world -- and to good benefit," says Cornell, who opened shop at the corner of Westminster Avenue and Walnut Street in 2005.
Compared with the brave new world of pharmacies, his apothecary, with its canister-lined shelves, rows of little brown bottles, and counters laden with herb-filled baggies -- the shop carries more than 150 different herbs -- is definitely old world (it also carries essential oils, incense, organic spices, and natural soaps and perfumes).
The public response "has surpassed my wildest dreams," he says. "I've had everyone from doctors, ministers, rabbis, First Nations, all nations, in here. Every profession you can think of, I've had as clients."
Cornell, 40, is a graduate of the Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in Calgary. He's an herbalist, not a doctor or a naturopath, so he can't diagnose or prescribe. What he does is "consult and assess," using methods (involving the tongue, irises and pulses) drawn from Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, as well as western physiology.
Like the sign on the russet-coloured building says, Hollow Reed takes an holistic approach to healing. Traditional cultures that have relied on natural remedies for millennia don't see the body as separate from the environment, says Cornell. "Nature, of which we are but a part, is inclined to seek balance. And in a holistic model, balance is health."
Leslee Tworek, 26, came to Hollow Reed on this day for help with a chronic throat infection. Antibiotics clear it up, she says, only to cause a rebound oral yeast infection (thrush).
It's her first foray into natural medicine. "I work in medical research, so I've got it ingrained in my head that doctors know what they're doing," she says. "But I work in a lab that does research in nutritional components of health, so I'm more open to this."
Less than 15 minutes later, Tworek leaves with a bag of Lapacho, a South American herb known for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties; a bottle of oil of oregano, also believed to fight infections; and a probiotic (friendly bacteria). Cornell also recommends she avoid sugar, alcohol and yeasty foods, and to increase her garlic and ginger intake.
A full consult at Hollow Reed (about 90 minutes, $75) takes into account a client's diet, lifestyle, sleep quality and stress levels, as well as his or her medical history and symptoms. A holistic approach also looks at possible psychological and even spiritual contributors to "dis-ease."
The top three complaints that bring clients to his door are stress, insomnia and anxiety/depression, says Cornell.
Although those of us who spend all day in front of a computer are said to have sedentary jobs, Cornell says the continual mental processing hyper-stimulates the nervous system. That, over time, can lead to depression.
"Any time in nature where there's a big upswing, there has to be a counter-balancing motion, a downswing," he says. "Imagine putting too much electricity through the wiring in your home. Eventually, it's going to burn out the system."
Herbs and holistic practices (the holistic centre next door to the apothecary offers meditation, qi gong and yoga) can help people withstand the levels of stress modern life exposes them to, Cornell says.
While he has no doubt that integrative medicine -- a combination of mainstream medical and alternative therapies -- is the future, he admits there's still a bias against the latter.
The main problem facing his industry is that it's competition for the pharmaceutical industry, which has the economic might to fund medical research, says Cornell, who has lectured in the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Manitoba's Health Sciences Centre campus for the past four years.
"The main argument against natural remedies is there needs to be more research. The challenge is, you can't patent a plant. If you spend $12 million researching it, at the end of the day, you don't own it, whereas the chemical you extract from a plant and make a chemical version of, you can patent and own that."
Natural, of course, does not necessarily mean harmless. Cornell urges people who are interested in using herbal medicine to consult a professional and do their research.
For more information, go to www.hollowreedholistic.ca.
"As defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, integrative medicine 'combines mainstream medical therapies and CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.'"
-- Dr. Andrew Weil, MD
Conventional medicine evolved from the principles of the Aesculapian School of Health, which treats symptoms and disease and relies on health information that can be measured. It works on the assumption that the removal or absence of these symptoms or disease indicates health.
CAM therapies work on the Hygean model of health, which assumes that the body can be in ideal health when it functions in a state of harmony and balance, using its own powerful natural resources to heal itself... As the body gradually succumbs to various stressors, such as toxins, energy blockages, etc., this interactive state loses its ability to remain in harmony, which gradually results in illness. CAM therapies focus on addressing the stressors or root causes.
-- Canadian Institute of Natural and Integrative Medicine
Between 1998 and 2005, the number of prescriptions filled by Canadian pharmacies rose at an annual growth rate of 6.5 per cent. In 2005, pharmacists wrote more than 395 million prescriptions, on average about 12 for each Canadian.
-- Statistics Canada