Today, many consumers want to take responsibility for their own health and find out what works for them and their medical conditions. Many people are turning to “alternative medicine” , especially when conventional medical treatments don’t work. Alternative medicine is really popular today. It includes acupuncture, aromatherapy, massage therapy. The one that’s of most interest to people in the nutrition field is herbal medicine. Herbal Medicine may be defines as ” the use of plants to treat disease and improve health”, and according to the World Health Organization, this definition suggests that over 80% of the world’s population currently uses herbs and medicinal plants for primary healthcare!
The current top 8 herbal supplements according to amounts sold are St.John’s wort, ginkgo biloba, echinacea, ephedra, kava, garlic, curcumin and resveratrol. Together they account for 50 percent of all retail sales of herbal supplements. Let’s look at these herbs in terms of what they can do for the typical person:
1. St. John’s wort
This supplement may be beneficial for mild depression but is no help in major depression, even with moderate symptoms. It might work by preventing nerve cells in the brain from reabsorbing the chemical messenger serotonin.
- Combining St. John’s wort with certain antidepressants can lead to a potentially life-threatening increase of serotonin, a brain chemical targeted by antidepressants. St. John’s wort can also limit the effectiveness of many prescription medicines.
2. Ginkgo biloba
It has been advertised as a memory enhancer. While this hasn’t been proven, ginkgo biloba does improve blood flow through the small veins in the body. In turn, this may increase blood flow to the brain. There is some concern that ginkgo leaf extract might increase the risk of bruising and bleeding. Ginkgo thins the blood and decreases its ability to form clots. A few people taking ginkgo have had bleeding into the eye and into the brain, and excessive bleeding following surgery. Ginkgo leaf extract can cause allergic skin reactions in some people.
- There are some data to suggest that ginkgo can increase bleeding risk, so people who take anticoagulant drugs, have bleeding disorders, or have scheduled surgery or dental procedures should use caution and talk to a health care provider if using ginkgo.
Echinacea is the most popular herb sold and is used to help ease the symptoms of colds and the flu. Echinacea works by inhibiting the production of viruses and increasing the number of T-lymphocytes in the blood. You might want to consider taking echinacea when start feeling flu symptoms.
- People are more likely to experience allergic reactions to echinacea if they are allergic to related plants in the daisy family, which includes ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies. Also, people with asthma or atopy (a genetic tendency toward allergic reactions) may be more likely to have an allergic reaction when taking echinacea.
This supplement has been used for weight management and reportedly increases a person’s metabolism. Ephedra raises blood pressure and heart rate, making individuals feel as if their metabolism is going up. This can be very dangerous for people with heart disease or risk of heart disease.
- Between 1995 and 1997, the FDA received more than 900 reports of possible ephedra toxicity. Serious adverse events such as stroke, heart attack, and sudden death were reported in 37 cases.
Kava is from black pepper family with the active ingredient being kavalactones. Kavalactones is found in the roots, which are pounded and then dried. This herb is used throughout Oceania in ceremonial activities and is thought to soothe one’s nerves.
- Long-term and/or heavy use of kava may result in scaly, yellowed skin.
- Avoid driving and operating heavy machinery while taking kava because the herb has been reported to cause drowsiness.
- Kava has been reported to cause liver damage, including hepatitis and liver failure (which can cause death).
Garlic has been shown to help lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and also to keep blood platelets from clotting. These are both very helpful in treating heart disease. However, because garlic helps to keep your blood from clotting, you should be careful taking it with other anticoagulant drugs such as coumadin. Be sure to tell your doctor you’re taking garlic if you have heart disease.
- Garlic can thin the blood (reduce the ability of blood to clot) in a manner similar to aspirin. This effect may be a problem during or after surgery. Use garlic with caution if you are planning to have surgery or dental work, or if you have a bleeding disorder.
Curcumin acts as an antioxidant helping to prevent cancer. some research shows that taking turmeric extracts, alone or in combination with other herbal ingredients, can reduce the pain caused by osteoarthritis.
- Taking turmeric might slow blood clotting. This might increase the risk of bruising and bleeding in people with bleeding disorders.
- Curcumin, a chemical in turmeric, might decrease blood sugar in people with diabetes. Use with caution in people with diabetes as it might make blood sugar too low.
Resveratrol, a compound in red wine, grapes, and nuts, has been the focus of many studies for its effects on aging and disease.
However, in a study published online by JAMA Internal Medicine on May 12, 2014, researchers report that dietary resveratrol did not provide such effects in a group of community-dwelling, older people in Italy.
Results are based on data collected from 1998 to 2009, as part of the Invecchiare in Chianti Study (“Aging in the Chianti Region”). The team of scientists from America and Italy, including NIA Scientific Director Dr. Luigi Ferrucci, found that resveratrol in the diet was not associated with a reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammation, nor was it associated with longevity.
Finally, some thought about herbal remedies.
Building on the examples above, please, remember: all of us must be careful of mixing herbs with traditional medicines. Each person reacts somewhat differently: you may not need as high dose as is recommended, and taking too much could possibly be toxic. However, if you find a herb that works for you, be sure to buy the same brand every time. This will help to minimize the differences in dosages and purity.
You can learn more about herbs by visiting this web.