Last year I was introduced to the phrase “vending machine herbalism” by John Gallagher of learning herbs. It’s when someone asks, “What’s a good herb for_______?” and a single herb response is expected to be vended out of the mouth of the herbalist. Herbalism does not work this way. Certainly, more details about that person’s condition needs to be gathered to able to give a more accurate answer. This discourse can take time. I’m changing the phrase to “vending machine advice” to include any question pertaining to supplements, homeopathic remedies, or even home care advice. I caution doctors or practitioners against giving advice that is succinct, not well thought out and not tailored to the individual. I also, urge patients to not ask these questions “on the fly” to the doctor or anyone for that matter. Most of the time these suggestions miss the mark. Instead, I offer my patients the opportunity to have a comprehensive consultation where I can have the time to ask a myriad of specific questions. Furthermore, if I am recommending an herb, I like to match the energetics of the herb to the constitution of the patient. For example, if a patient is always cold, I certainly do not want to match them with herbs that are cooling. Instead I would choose warming herbs to balance their system. The more details and clues you can gather from a patient, the more specific the treatment. I spend a whole lecture going over the importance of this concept with the college students that I teach.
Let me give you an example. “Dr. Barker, I’m constipated, what should I take?” If I were to say something like, take psyllium husk, it may or may not work. I haven’t asked them any questions at all. Some good questions to ask for this example would be: Why do you think you are constipated? When did this start? Any changes to your diet or lifestyle? Did you start any new medications or supplements? What makes it better or worse? What have you tried already? Is there pain associated with this? How is this impacting your life?……..is the source of their constipation mechanical (maybe they need a chiropractic adjustment)? Is the source emotional, nutritional, or even chemical? The devil is always in the details. This person could simply need to hydrate more or eat more fiber or this person could have a serious life threatening problem and they need to be referred out.
So……when you have a health question, make sure you have the time to talk about it and make sure you give as many details as you can about your condition, make sure the doctor is asking you many questions, and never ask for advice for friends or family when they are not present because you don’t know the answers to the questions being asked.