Comparing Herbal Medicines, Homeopathy, Natural Supplements and Pharmaceuticals

There are several different ways one can go about supporting certain health issues, including the use of herbal medicine, homeopathy, natural supplements and pharmaceuticals. How do you know which may be the best option for you? Dr. Taylor Pagano, ND and our nutritionist and herbalist, Lindsay Kluge, guide you through the differences and benefits of your options.

Using Herbal Medicines:

Herbs can be incredibly simple and also very complex. Because herbs are not created for our imbalances (i.e, there is no herb created to “treat IBS” or to “treat arthritis”), we use herbal medicines for their physiological actions which have been well documented over time. These herbal actions include functions such as antispasmodics, analgesics, bitters, demulcents, stimulants, adaptogens and anxiolytics, to name a few. We match the herbal actions with each individual symptom picture (and every person is different!) and always work towards choosing herbs that enhance the body’s natural function rather than cover up an existing symptom. Herbs do multiple things at once and act on multiple organ systems at the same time, ideally working with your body synergistically.  This produces minimal (if any) side effects and makes herbs effective at supporting certain health issues.

When incorporating herbal medicines into your health plan, it is extremely helpful to consult with an herbalist or naturopathic doctor that is well versed in how to administer herbs properly and knows how to appropriately dose the herbs for each person. When you hear of herbs “not working”, it’s usually because the herb was not the correct choice for the person, or the dosing of the herb was incorrect or the frequency of use was not long enough. These are all important things to consider when taking herbal medicines.

Using Homeopathy:

Homeopathic remedies are diluted non-material doses of substances found in nature. They can be made from plants, minerals, or animals. Homeopathy works based upon the “law of similars” or the principle of “like cures like”.  This means that the medicine is very specific to the patient presentation and overall symptom picture.  The remedies are not based upon the name of the disease state, but rather the whole person presentation – this includes the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects.  

An example of like cures like: in a healthy person sometimes drinking a cup of coffee results in restlessness, racing thoughts, sweating, and shaking.  A disease state like anxiety or even the flu that has these same symptoms would be healed by the homeopathic remedy coffea.  So in the crude (physical) dose the substance creates the same symptoms in a healthy person that the homeopathic non-material dose would help heal in a sick person.

The way homeopathics work within the body is by stimulating the body’s ability to heal itself.  This is what we call the vital force – your body’s wisdom and intelligence is always moving in the direction of health and balance. When the body gets a scratch on the skin, it immediately sends blood cells to clot and stop bleeding, immune cells to fight potential infections, and remodeling of the collagen and tissues begins forming.  We don’t ask the body to do this, it just does – this is the vital force at work.  Disease states can throw us off balance at times and homeopathic remedies can be used to aid in our healing or return to balance.

Using Supplements:

Supplements can be any individual or combination of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, or amino acids. Natural supplements are used by naturopathic doctors and nutritionists  in a way that is supportive to your body’s unique physiology. What this means is that your ND and/or nutritionist is looking at you as a whole person to see what nutrients may be deficient or which biochemical pathways or organ systems need support (they can usually tell this based on symptoms and further lab testing if needed).  In conjunction with healthy diet and lifestyle choices, natural remedies and supplements work with your body and support its natural healing ability.  Its also important to note that excessive supplementation can be harmful as it can overwhelm the body. Supplements work best when they are chosen to target your individual needs and given in therapeutic doses.

Ideal supplements use high-quality nutrients that are the most absorbable and easiest for the body to use.  They should have third party-testing to analyze for quality and contamination.  They also should not contain binders, fillers, excipients, or preservatives– these are usually found on the label under “other ingredients”.  Physician grade supplements are recommended and what we use at RNM to ensure quality.  For more tips on reading supplement labels check out our other blog posts on the topic Top 10 Tips for Buying High Quality Supplements and A Nutritionist’s Take on Supplements!

Pharmaceutical comparison:

In comparison to pharmaceutical medications, herbs, homeopathics, and natural supplements work with your body and are working on all levels of your being (mind, body, spirit) and in synergy with all of your organ systems.  Pharmaceutical drugs – although highly specific and targeted for disease states – are often working against your body and suppressing symptoms.

For example in the case of getting an infection with a fever – the conventional approach may be to give you an anti-pyretic and an antibiotic.  The “ANTI” – meaning working against the body or suppressing a symptom. This is helpful in the short term to address immediate symptoms, however is not a long term solution. A naturopathic approach to this may be to use herbs and supplements that are immune stimulating to aid your body in fighting the virus or bacteria and maybe a diaphoretic or homeopathic to aid the fevers effectiveness and allow your body to sweat.  The body creates a fever for a reason – to kill the invading virus or bacteria, shutting down the fever with an anti-pyretic is going against the innate nature of your body trying to heal itself, so instead we choose substances that aid the fever and the immune system to do what they do best!

Many times discontinuing a pharmaceutical medication after regular use can lead to the return of symptoms.  This is common because often the medication just masks the symptom.  This is offering relief from discomfort, which can be helpful at times, however it’s not a great solution for long term chronic conditions.  Herbs, homeopathics, and natural supplements offer a solution – in working with the body they are supporting, rebalancing, and targeting the root cause of the symptom rather than the symptom itself. So once the body is back in balance and working well like the brilliant, wise human vehicle it is meant to be, you can discontinue your natural supplements without having return of symptoms. These offer the body a reminder and support in the direction of health, once the body “remembers” what normal function looks like it is able to maintain that normal functioning on its own.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that there is a time and a place for using pharmaceuticals and they can be more helpful than harmful in select circumstances. Ideally, your naturopathic doctor and nutritionist will be working in conjunction with your doctors to find the best solution for each person, even if that means using both pharmaceuticals and natural remedies simultaneously.

If you’re curious about which solution may be best for you and your health picture, considering meeting with a Naturopathic Doctor or Nutritionist to go over your unique options. There is usually more than one effective way to go about finding a solution, and the practitioners at Richmond Natural Medicine are dedicated to finding the best option for you.

About the Authors

Lindsay Kluge is a Clinical Herbalist & Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist and received her Masters of Science degree in Herbal Medicine from the Maryland University of Integrative Health in 2012. She has been with Richmond Natural Medicine since 2013, and specializes in therapeutic holistic nutrition, circadian rhythm balance and sleep physiology, digestion, and Ayurvedic nutrition. She offers individualized nutrition and herbal medicine consultations that include meal planning support, custom compounded herbal formulas, nutrition guidance and general wellness support.  Learn more about services that Lindsay offers at Richmond Natural Medicine by clicking HERE.  To book an appointment with Lindsay Kluge, please contact our office at (804) 977-2634.


Dr. Taylor Pagano is a Naturopathic Doctor at Richmond Natural Medicine where she enjoys helping people in the areas of general wellness, gastrointestinal concerns, neurology and women’s medicine. She received her naturopathic medical degree at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona.  To book a Naturopathic appointment with Dr. Taylor Pagano, contact our office at (804) 977-2634.