Femtalk USA - Health Advice
An herb is a plant or plant part used for its scent,
flavor or therapeutic properties. Herbal medicine products are dietary
supplements that people take to improve their health. Many herbs have been
used for a long time for claimed health benefits. They are sold as tablets,
capsules, powders, teas, extracts and fresh or dried plants. However, some
can cause health problems, some are not effective and some may interact with
other drugs you are taking.
History of herbal medicine
Plants had been used for medicinal purposes long before recorded
history. For example, ancient Chinese and Egyptian papyrus writings describe
medicinal plant uses. Indigenous cultures (such as African and Native
American) used herbs in their healing rituals, while others developed
traditional medical systems (such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese
Medicine) in which herbal therapies were used systematically.
Recently, the World
Health Organization estimated that 80% of people worldwide rely on herbal
medicines for some aspect of their primary health care. In the last 20 years
in the United States, increasing public dissatisfaction with the cost of
prescription medications, combined with an interest in returning to natural
or organic remedies, has led to an increase in the use of herbal medicines.
In Germany, roughly 600 - 700 plant-based medicines are available and are
prescribed by approximately 70% of German physicians.
do herbs work?
For most herbs, the specific ingredient that causes a therapeutic
effect is not known. Whole herbs contain many ingredients, and it is likely
that they work together to produce the desired medicinal effect. Many
factors determine how effective an herb will be. For example, the type of
environment (climate, bugs, soil quality) in which a plant grew will affect
its components, as will how and when it was harvested and processed.
The use of herbal supplements for medicinal purposes has increased
dramatically over the past 30 years. Herbal supplements are classified as
dietary supplements by the U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act
(DSHEA) of 1994. The FDA defines a dietary supplement as "...any product
taken by mouth that contains a so-called 'dietary ingredient' and its label
clearly states that it is a dietary supplement." Per the provisions of DSHEA,
herbal supplements -- unlike pharmaceutical drugs -- can be marketed without
undergoing testing to prove their safety and efficacy. However, herbal
supplements must be manufactured according to good manufacturing practices.
The most commonly used
herbal supplements in the U.S. include echinacea (Echinacea purpurea
and related species), St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum),
ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), garlic (Allium sativum), saw
palmetto (Serenoa repens), ginseng (Panax ginseng, or
Asian ginseng; and Panax quinquefolius, or American ginseng),
goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), valerian (Valeriana
officinalis), kava (Piper methysticum), chamomile (Matricaria
recutita), feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), ginger (Zingiber
officinale), evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), and milk
thistle (Silybum marianum ).
Several herbs are
often used together to enhance effectiveness and synergistic actions and to
reduce toxicity. Health care providers must take many things into account
when recommending herbs. For example, the species and variety of the plant,
the plant's habitat, how it was stored and processed, and whether or not
there are contaminants (including heavy metals and pesticides).
What is herbal medicine good for?
Herbal medicine treats many conditions, such as asthma, eczema,
premenstrual syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine, menopausal symptoms,
chronic fatigue, and irritable bowel syndrome, among others. Herbal
supplements are best taken under the guidance of a trained health care
provider. Be sure to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before
self-treating. Some common herbs and their uses are discussed below.
biloba), particularly a standardized extract known as EGb
761, appears to produce improvements in awareness, judgment, and social
function in people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Randomized
controlled studies assessing the use of ginkgo supplements for Alzheimer's
disease in individuals older than 65 years have produced positive results.
Kava kava (Piper
methysticum) has become popular as a treatment for anxiety,
but recent reports have traced liver damage to enough people who have used
kava that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning
regarding its use, while other countries, such as Germany, France, and
Canada, have taken kava off the market. However, there is no definitive
proof that kava alone is responsible for liver damage in humans. Kava has
been used traditionally for thousands of years. |
Saw palmetto (Serenoa
repens) is used by over 2 million men in the United States
for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). The evidence
suggests that saw palmetto provides mild-to-moderate improvement in
urinary symptoms and flow measures. Saw palmetto produces similar
improvement in urinary symptoms and flow compared to finasteride (Proscar),
a pharmaceutical drug used in BPH, and is associated with fewer adverse
treatment events. |
St. John's wort (Hypericum
perforatum) is well known for its antidepressant effects.
The clinical efficacy of some standardized St. John's wort standardized
extracts in the treatment of mild and moderate depression has been
demonstrated in about 40 controlled clinical trials. |
officinalis) has had a long tradition as a sleep-inducing
agent, with the added benefit of producing no hangover feeling the next
Echinacea preparations (from
Echinacea purpurea and other
Echinacea species) may improve the body's natural immunity.
Echinacea is one of the most commonly used herbal products, but
controversy exists about its benefit in the prevention and treatment of
the common cold. A meta-analysis of 14 clinical studies evaluating the
effect of echinacea on the incidence and duration of the common cold found
that echinacea supplements decreased the odds of developing the common
cold by 58% and the duration of a cold by 1.4 days.|
supplements are the best way to ensure proper dosages and effects similar to
human clinical trials. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about which herbal
supplements are the best choice for your health concerns.
Used correctly, many herbs are considered safer than conventional
medications, but because they are unregulated, herbal products are often
mislabeled and may contain undeclared additives. Some herbs are associated
with allergic reactions or interact with conventional drugs.
Self-prescribing herbal products will increase your risk, so it is important
to consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking herbal medicines. Some
examples of adverse reactions from certain popular herbs are described
St. John's wort causes
sensitivity to the sun's ultraviolet rays, and may cause an allergic
reaction, stomach upset, fatigue, and restlessness. Clinical studies
report that St. John's wort also interferes with the effectiveness of many
drugs, including warfarin, birth control pills, certain asthma drugs, and
many other medications. In addition, St. John's wort should not be taken
with prescribed anti-depressant medication. The FDA has issued a public
health advisory concerning many of these interactions. |
Kava kava has been
linked to liver toxicity. Kava has been taken off the market in several
countries because of the liver toxicity, although the causes remain
Valerian may cause
over-sedation, and in some people it may even have the unexpected effect
of over-stimulating instead of sedating. |
Bleeding time may be
altered with the use of garlic, ginkgo, feverfew, and ginger, among
Evening primrose (Oenothera
biennis) may increase the risk of seizures in patients taking drug
known to lower seizure threshold, such as anticonvulsants. |
supplements, especially those imported from Asian countries, may contain
high levels of heavy metals, including lead, mercury, and cadmium. It is
important to purchase herbal supplements from reputable manufacturers to
ensure quality. Talk to your health care provider for more information.|
Who is using herbal medicine?
Nearly one-third of Americans use herbs. Be sure to consult your
doctor before trying any herbal products.
Herbs Guide for more information.