Herbal remedies or medicinal plants?

Recently I came across a medical journal press release with the following title…

“Herbal remedies offer hope as the new antibiotics”

Aside from the annoyance factor, I was intrigued as to why a peer-reviewed scientific journal chose this particular form of words to publicise to professional science journalists an interesting paper on the antimicrobial effects of certain medicinal plants in oral cancer patients. Now I’m not particularly well qualified to comment on the detail of the clinical science, but the paper by Rohtak-based researchers Manju Panghal, Vivek Kaushal and Jaya Parkash Yadav seems sound.

Yadav and his colleagues have shown that eight of the 10 plants studied – all of which are used in Indian folk medicine – can significantly affect the growth of bacterial or fungal organisms collected either by oral swab or grown in the lab. The plants include wild asparagus, desert date, false daisy, curry tree, caster oil plant and fenugreek, while affected pathogens include Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus epidermidis. Forty oral cancer patients took part in the study.

What irritates me is not the journal paper, which briefly discusses Indian folk medicine and herbalism, but focuses on a rigorous scientific analysis of plant-based medicines, but a press release the title of which is designed to appeal to a tabloid mindset. It may not taint the science, but certainly reflects badly on it.

The only redeeming features of the press release are its reference to the importance of the extraction process in preparing medicinal plants, and the following final quote from Yadav…

“Although the plants tested had a lower potency than conventional antibiotics they offer hope against resistant species. These results are a starting point for further testing in the lab and clinic.”

That neatly sums up the result of the clinical study, and rather negates the sensationalist title of a press release which has led to the paper being referenced by innumerable ‘alternative medicine’ and new-age websites. A few PRs cannot control the loonies of the Interwebs, but purposely feeding these googling trolls is neither big nor clever.

Further reading

Panghal et al., “In vitro antimicrobial activity of ten medicinal plants against clinical isolates of oral cancer cases”, Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials 10, 21 (2011)