A lot of people believe that when it comes to medicine, “natural” is better, healthier, and safer than “unnatural” or synthetic drugs. Read more.

Nature has been good to us. Nature gave us aspirin and morphine, and other medicines derived from plants. The use of plants as medicines has a long history in the treatment of disease.

But not all products from nature have been shown to be effective.

Some dietary and herbal supplements have failed to show a benefit when scientists have studied them. For example, studies of ginkgo, including a large study that enrolled more than 3,000 older adults, found that ginkgo supplements don’t help prevent or slow dementia or cognitive decline.

And “natural” medicines, contrary to what many may think, are not without side effects. Some can even have serious safety concerns.

Some people also believe that “natural” products are safe because they believe these medicines are free of chemicals.

For many, the word “chemical” has come to mean toxic or synthetic, something to be avoided. But everything is made of chemicals, even the air that you breathe. In fact, you are made up of chemicals, too.

Some chemicals are harmful. Toxic chemicals are substances that may be harmful to the environment or hazardous to your health if inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. But there are many toxic chemicals that occur in nature as well—mercury, snake venom, arsenic, and ricin from castor beans. Natural medicines such as herbal and dietary supplements are made up of chemicals, too, just like everything else.

But it’s important to understand that although many herbal or dietary supplements come from natural sources, “natural” does not always mean that it’s a safer or better option for your health. Scientists are studying many of these products to identify what ingredients may be active and to better understand their effects in the body. (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) – https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/know-science/natural-doesnt-mean-better)