Social media pages specializing in natural medicine often use promises of major health benefits to attract attention. (Photo: @method.healthy on Instagram)

Early into the pandemic, the government of Zimbabwe authorized the use of traditional medicine to treat COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization, “Traditional medicine refers to the knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures, used in the maintenance of health and in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.” The most popular type of traditional medicine is herbal medicine. There have been some proven benefits to plant-based medicine. One of the most effective treatments for malaria is Artemisia annual, a Chinese herb. For the most part, however, the medical industry has moved past naturopathic treatments, finding newer developments to be more effective. Though studies on the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 with herbal remedies have been inconclusive or inconsistent, some people claim that several naturopathic solutions have helped them stay healthy during the pandemic.

Natural medicine has been observed for millennia, but only arrived in the United States from Western Europe in the 19th century. After World War II, its practice in the United States declined but was soon revived in the 1970s. According to multiple naturopathic websites, the goal of this type of medicine is to treat the mind, body and spirit of a patient. Although herbal medicines are often advertised as a safe and natural alternative to over-the-counter pills, they can potentially have adverse effects. They can interfere with other medications, especially cardiovascular drugs. In some cases, they may even negatively affect the heart on their own. Some users of natural supplements don’t tell their doctor about their use, either believing it doesn’t make a difference or not wanting to be shamed. However, 100,000 people die every year from drug interactions, so omitting this information could be fatal.

Some supporters of natural health have completely rejected Western medicine. In a TikTok comment, tea and herb seller @thehooddoctor1 said, “We can’t trust these doctors at all! They profit from our demise.” Online tutorials and testimonies of these remedies have claimed a massive array of benefits, from weight loss to curing erectile dysfunction.

Today, naturopathic medicine continues to be practiced across the globe. However, despite its popularity in the holistic health community, there are only about 6,000 licensed naturopathic doctors practicing in the United States. 

A local practice, Atlanta Integrative and Internal Medicine, answered some frequently asked questions on its website. “A naturopathic doctor must pass rigorous professional board exams prior to being licensed or regulated in a state that regulates the practice of naturopathic medicine,” said one response. “State mandated regulatory bodies oversee standards of practice, complaints, and discipline for all licensed jurisdictions.” Even though many naturopathic practitioners go through thousands of hours of classes and hands-on training, traditional medicine practitioners often aren’t licensed at all. 

Nonetheless, the holistic health community has now taken over a large part of the debate on COVID-19 treatments. An uncountable number of videos advertising their natural remedies appear with a simple TikTok search. A majority of these remedies consist of ingesting fruits and herbs in a tea to help symptoms and prevent contraction of COVID-19. 

However, a small group of accounts claims even larger results. One in particular claims to cure the illness with a boiled drink of lemon, ginger, cinnamon, star anise and honey. Many health experts have discouraged this type of treatment, including Dr. Nyika Mahachi, president of the Zimbabwe College of Public Health Physicians. “We cannot take a chance with traditional medicine that is not proven,” said Dr. Mahachi in an interview.

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