Tags: health news
Americans love herbs. Consumer use of herbal therapies increased 380% from 1990-1997, and it continues to rise. Many people, especially those wary of pharmaceuticals, believe that herbs are safe and free of side effects. Others appreciate the control that herbs offer – no visits to the doctor are required.
Americans use herbs to treat acute problems such as colds and more chronic problems such as depression and memory loss. Five of the most common herbs are:
Generally used at the first sign of a cold as an immune system stimulant. It isn’t appropriate for long-term use and shouldn’t be used by people on immunosuppressants.
Gineng is used for many purposes, often relating to alertness, energy and mental functioning. Some people believe that it can stimulate the immune system and possibly even decrease the risk of cancer.
Garlic is often used to decrease cholesterol and high blood pressure. It may also thin the blood and can interact with other blood thinners. There is some evidence that regular use of garlic may decrease the risk of cancer.
4. Ginko Biloba
Ginko is generally used for memory loss and dementia syndromes such as Alzheimer’s disease.
5. St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is sometimes thought of as ‘mini-Prozac’ and is used for mild depression.
Herbs are popular and generally safe, but some cautions are appropriate. Since many herbs are biologically active, they can have side effects and interact with other medications. Before using any herb, be sure to educate yourself about its use. There are many internet resources with excellent information about commonly used herbs. Two good ones are The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and AltMD.
One of the problems with herbal therapies in the U.S. is that they are not closely regulated by the FDA. Consumer protection studies have been done to evaluate the correlation between stated contents and actual contents in various herbal formulations and the results were disturbing. Many pills had less of the active ingredient then stated, and some actually contained none of the listed herb at all.
There is no definite way to determine which companies are most reliable, but common sense can help a bit. Don’t buy herbs from a deep discount store and be wary of small internet companies. If you find a product that works for you, try to stick with the same brand. And if you tried one brand of an herb but had no result, you could consider trying another brand before giving up.
If you don’t feel confident choosing an herbal plan yourself, there are resources to help you. You could ask your physician for help however, while some physicians are knowledgeable about herbal therapies, many are not. Consider visiting either an Integrative Medicine physician or a Naturopath. We have both available in Baltimore.