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Debunking Myths About Herbals and Alternatives

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Pharmacology

Updated Dec 20, 2022

Debunking Myths About Herbals and Alternatives

Herbal and alternative medicine misinformation is running rampant nowadays, despite the ease of access to a plethora of credible sources online. The spread of both fact and herbal medicine myth is almost instantaneous. This is due to the number of people connected on online platforms such as forums and social media sites. 

alternative medicine misinformation

Alternative Medicine Misinformation: Experts versus Celebrities

As people gain an interest in health and improving their lifestyle, they may be easily swayed by promises and products endorsed by celebrities and so-called experts.

While there is nothing wrong with marketing a product, there are times when the claims are false or have no real evidence. 

So it’s best for all of us to know how to identify alternative medicine misinformation.

Influencers endorsing a new diet or fat-loss pill may not actually be using the products themselves.

Results shown may be edited or be staged. Health and fitness personalities and so-called doctors publish self-help books and guest on television to convince the audience to purchase their products.

These are often costly and claim to work for everyone regardless of their individual needs.

If you have a health concern or would like to take steps toward improving your lifestyle, it is always best to start with your doctor.

For health information, stick to established and credible sources such as the WHO, CDC, and certified medical societies and universities.

Read on to find out how to spot alternative medicine misinformation.

Alternative Medicine Misinformation: Debunking Popular Myths

Myth #1: Alkaline water improves your health

This is a health myth that is often seen and shared online. Alkaline water is water that has a basic pH level (higher than 7).

Proponents of alkalizing the body believe that having a higher pH diet can prevent signs of aging, osteoporosis, and even cancer.


There are no scientific studies in humans that support or disprove these claims. Therefore, it is considered alternative medicine misinformation.

Drinking alkaline water does not have any effect on the body that is significantly different from other types of drinking water. But if you prefer the taste of alkaline water, you can continue to drink it.

Myth #2: Vitamin C can cure a cold

Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is included in most supplements and products that claim to be cold remedies or immune boosters.

Oftentimes, the amount of vitamin C is hundreds of times over the body’s daily requirements. 

Studies have shown that while doses of vitamin C can help reduce the duration and severity of a cold, it does not completely remove the risk of catching a cold in the first place.


Vitamin C indeed plays an important role in boosting immunity, however, it is not a cure-all. Vitamin C-rich food and supplements are great to improve your health as it is essential for immune function, building collagen, and improve wound healing.

It is generally safe even in high doses, as it is water-soluble but it may cause hyperacidity in some people.

Myth #3: Garlic can be used to treat hypertension

In traditional medicine, garlic is used both topically and internally to treat a variety of ailments.

Here in the Philippines, garlic is often rubbed on minor wounds or insect bites to reduce swelling and inflammatio. And, of course, is included in many meals to add flavor. 


The good news is that there is much scientific evidence supporting that garlic has antimicrobial, antioxidant, and blood pressure-lowering properties.

Freshly crushed garlic or garlic supplements contain allicin, sulfur-compounds, and several other substances that improve health. 

If your blood pressure is normal or only slightly elevated, including garlic in your diet may help prevent the buildup of cholesterol plaques before they occur.

However, it is important to note that while garlic does possess health benefits, it cannot replace prescription antihypertensives and too much garlic intake may increase your risk of bleeding.

Myth #4: Cabbage can be applied to the skin to reduce inflammation

This age-old herbal medicine myth has resurfaced in recent years due to online personalities and alternative health advocates promoting its use to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, dermatitis, and tumors.

Cabbage leaf wraps or cabbage poultices are traditional European remedies to treat inflammatory disorders and pain. Fresh cabbage is typically crushed or blended to form a paste then applied to the affected areas with cloth or plastic wrap and left to sit for minutes to hours.


While some studies have compared cabbage leaf wraps to topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), the benefits of cabbage were only mild and nowhere near as effective at controlling inflammation or pain as the NSAIDs.

Myth #5: Drinking apple cider vinegar can burn unwanted fat

Nowadays, the pressure to lose weight and be thin is strong due to constant exposure to advertisements of models with perfectly fit figures and new fad diets trending every month.

While maintaining a healthy body composition (body fat and muscle ratio) and ideal body weight is proven to improve a person’s health and quality of life, getting there takes a bit of effort.

People are enticed by quick fixes, and apple cider vinegar (ACV) is consistently brought up in many fad diets and detox drinks. It’s all-natural, so it should be safe, right?


There is some truth to apple cider vinegar and weight loss. ACV contains acetic acid, which is usually available as a weak to moderate strength acid. Because it is made from fermented apples, it does retain the nutrients contained in fresh apples, such as vitamin C, several B vitamins, folic acid, and polyphenols.

Acetic acid as a remedy has been used for centuries, both topically and internally. Studies have shown that it can:

  • control blood sugar
  • improve insulin response
  • reduce blood pressure and triglycerides
  • be used as a topical antiseptic
  • potentially prevent tumor growth and occurrence

alternative medicine misinformation

Because it improves insulin response and lowers triglycerides, the body can utilize energy better and prevent the storing of fat and formation of arterial plaques.

However, this must be done in combination with a healthy diet and exercise routine. The effects on blood sugar and insulin are more prominent than the effects on fat loss. 

Due to the acidity and strong taste and odor, ACV can cause nausea and decrease appetite which may be a significant reason why those who regularly consume it lose weight by virtue of calorie deficit. 

If you plan to include it in your diet, it is important to always dilute the vinegar in water before drinking it. The acid can erode your tooth enamel, mouth, and esophageal mucosa, causing painful ulceration and bleeding.

It can also lower potassium levels so it should be taken with caution if you are taking certain diuretics or hypertension medications.

Key Takeaways

To be clear, herbal and alternative medicine is not discouraged by modern medicine; only alternative medicine misinformation is condemned. In fact, major international and local health organizations include the use of these alternative treatments to supplement therapy prescribed by doctors and other health experts.

You can use herbal remedies at home for minor ailments and to improve your general health to prevent illnesses. However, these are never replacements for any medications that your doctor has prescribed.

Learn more about herbal medicine, here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Written by

Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD


Updated Dec 20, 2022

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