A guide to herbal remedies

Some herbals can make you feel better and help keep you healthy. But you need to be a smart consumer. Use these tips when choosing herbal remedies.

  • Look closely at the claims made about the product. How is the product described? Is it a “miracle” pill that “melts away” fat? Will it work faster than regular care? Is it a secret your health care provider and drug companies don’t want you to know? Such claims are red flags. If something’s too good to be true, it probably is not.
  • Remember “real-life stories” are not scientific proof. Many products are promoted with real-life stories. Even if the quote comes from a provider, there’s no proof that other people will get the same results.
  • Before trying a product, talk with your provider. Ask for their opinion. Is the product safe? What are the chances it will work? Are their risks? Will it interact with other medicines? Will it interfere with your treatment?
  • Buy only from companies that have certification on the label, such as “USP Verified” or “ConsumerLab.com Approved Quality.” Companies with these certifications agree to test the purity and quality of their products.
  • DO NOT give herbal supplements to children or use them if you are older than age 65 years. Talk to your provider first.
  • DO NOT use herbals without talking to your provider if you are taking any medicines.
  • DO NOT use them if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • DO NOT use them if you are having surgery.
  • Always let your provider know what herbals you use. They can affect the medicines you take as well any treatment you receive.

For centuries, people have turned to natural remedies to fight common ailments such as colds, upset stomachs and toothaches. And the trend continues. Nearly 4 out of 10 adults have used some form of alternative remedy, according to a 2007 report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

As appealing as the notion of natural remedies is for some, however, not all such remedies are safe or effective. In fact, some herbal and vitamin supplements don’t even have to meet safety standards required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Because herbal supplements contain plants, the FDA considers them to be food. As a result, the manufacturers who produce these products aren’t required to perform clinical trials or follow the manufacturing and labeling laws required for prescription and over-the-counter drugs. What’s more, some of these remedies may interact with over-the-counter or prescription medications. That’s why experts recommend talking with a doctor before trying a natural remedy.

Here’s the lowdown on whether five common natural remedies actually work.

Probiotics

Probiotics, or live bacterial cultures, are considered to be “friendly” bacteria. So these organisms may be a good defense against the “bad” bacteria that can occasionally overwhelm a person’s intestinal tract, causing diarrhea.

Although antibiotics are used to fight bacterial infections, they can also disrupt the natural balance of good and bad bacteria in the intestines. When good bacteria is eliminated, allowing other bacteria such as Clostridium difficile to grow out of control, attacking the lining of the intestine. The result: diarrhea.

In a recent review published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at nearly 12,000 men and women who were taking antibiotics and found that 42 percent of people who also took probiotics were less likely to develop diarrhea than those who didn’t.

Probiotics generally come in the form of dietary supplements, fermented foods and dairy products like yogurt. Yogurt products contain different strains of probiotics that are part of the normal intestinal environment. But researchers still haven’t figured out which probiotic strains work best. What’s more, only certain types of diarrhea respond to probiotics.

Still, there is some evidence to suggest that using some bacterial strains of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria can treat infectious types of diarrhea such as the kind caused by the rotavirus in children and traveler’s diarrhea. But that also depends on the probiotic strain used.

Primrose oil for eczema

Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis (AD), is an itchy, rashlike skin condition that mostly affects babies during their first year of life. Studies have found that for some kids, the condition disappears by age 2. But about half of the children who get AD will have it as an adult, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (ADD). Between 10 and 20 percent of children have dermatitis, reports the ADD, but 1 to 3 percent of adults are also affected.

The condition is often triggered by an allergy to certain foods, household products, animal dander or stress. There is no cure for eczema. Treatment can include medication and incorporating a moisturizer or ointment into one’s daily skin care regimen.

Some studies have suggested that primrose oil may calm the itching of eczema, but the results have been mixed, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Although evening primrose oil is rich in essential fatty acids, which help the body grow and develop, using it on irritated skin may not be enough, according to a 2003 study published in the British Medical Journal. Researchers analyzed a number of studies and found that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to suggest any benefit.

“I wouldn’t recommend topical evening primrose oil for eczema,” said Dr. Zoe Draelos, a dermatologist and professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “There just isn’t enough evidence. And there are better alternatives, such as a good cream moisturizer or a corticosteroid cream.”

Cranberry juice for urinary tract infections

Some studies have reported that drinking cranberry juice regularly may prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Urinary tract infections, caused by bacteria that live in the intestines, are the second most common infection in the body, accounting for about 8.1 million doctor visits each year, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. UTIs are more common in women than in men. For women who have recurring UTIs, experts generally recommend using low doses of a prescribed antibiotic for six months or longer.

Cranberries contain certain compounds that are thought to stop infection-causing bacteria like Escherichia coli from taking up residence in the lining of the urinary tract.

One recent study published in the July 2012 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine found that women who regularly drink cranberry juice were 38 percent less likely to develop a UTI than women who didn’t drink cranberry juice. But some research suggests otherwise.

In an analysis published in the October 2012 issue of the journal Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, researchers analyzed 24 studies with a total of 4,473 participants. They found that cranberry juice was less effective than previously thought. Although some smaller studies in the analysis showed a benefit for women with UTIs, it wasn’t significant when the results of a much larger study were included.

“Some evidence suggests cranberry juice contains sugars that can block the binding of bacterial cells, which is a critical first step in infection,” said Dr. Anthony Schaeffer, chair of Northwestern Medicine Urology in Chicago. “But in the real world, it doesn’t seem to have an effect because it’s not strong enough.”

To prevent a UTI, doctors recommend that women drink plenty of water and urinate as needed.

Cinnamon to control blood sugar

Several studies have suggested that cinnamon is a natural ingredient that can control blood sugar levels and fats in the blood. But results from these studies have been mixed.

In a 2009 study published in the journal Diabetic Medicine, researchers randomly gave 58 people with Type 2 diabetes either cinnamon or a placebo for more than 12 weeks and found that blood sugar levels among those who took two grams of cinnamon dropped by 0.36 percent. By contrast, blood sugar levels rose by 0.13 percent in people who took a placebo. But a recent review published in the September 2012 issue of the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews had different results. Researchers looked at the effects of cinnamon on people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. They found no significant difference in blood sugar levels between those who were given cinnamon and those who were given a placebo.

Bottom line: There still isn’t enough scientific evidence to back up cinnamon’s blood sugar-lowering effect. Experts recommend following a diabetes meal plan, staying physically active, and taking the appropriate prescription medications.

Clove oil for tooth pain

Clove oil is a popular natural treatment for toothache. That’s because the herb contains eugenol, a chemical compound that is thought to reduce pain.

Although whole or dried clove seems safe when added to food in small amounts, not enough is known about taking cloves by mouth in larger amounts. Clove oil is considered safe when applied to the skin, but considered dangerous when large amounts are ingested.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that eugenol is effective for tooth pain. Moreover, the American Dental Association recommends using over-the-counter pain relief medications for tooth pain until a person can visit the dentist.

Pass it on: Many home remedies are appealing, but research shows they may not help.

This story was provided by MyHealthNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience. Follow MyHealthNewsDaily on Twitter @MyHealth_MHND. Find us on Facebook.

Many common herbs and spices are claimed to have blood sugar lowering properties that make them useful for people with or at high risk of type 2 diabetes.

A number of clinical studies have been carried out in recent years that show potential links between herbal therapies and improved blood glucose control, which has led to an increase in people with diabetes using these more ‘natural’ ingredients to help manage their condition.

What herbal therapies are available?

Plant-based therapies that have been shown in some studies to have anti-diabetic properties include:

  • Aloe vera
  • Bilberry extract
  • Bitter melon
  • Cinnamon
  • Fenugreek
  • Ginger
  • Okra

While such therapies are commonly used in ayurvedic and oriental medicine for treating serious conditions such as diabetes, many health experts in the west remain sceptical about their reported medical benefits.

In fact, because certain herbs, vitamins and supplements may interact with diabetes medications (including insulin) and increase their hypoglycemic effects, it is often argued that use of natural therapies could reduce blood sugars to dangerously low levels and raise the risk of other diabetes complications.

Whatever your intended reasons for using these specific herbs, you must always discuss your plans with your doctor and diabetes healthcare team first to ensure they are safe for your condition and determine a suitable dose.

Further herbal therapies

The herbs and plant derivatives listed below have been employed traditionally by native people in the treatment of diabetes, in the areas in which they grow.

Many suffer from an inadequate knowledge base.

Allium

Allium sativum is more commonly known as garlic, and is thought to offer antioxidant properties and micro-circulatory effects. Although few studies have directly linked allium with insulin and blood glucose levels, results have been positive.

Allium may cause a reduction in blood glucose, increase secretion and slow the degradation of insulin Limited data is available however, and further trials are needed.

Bauhinia forficata and Myrcia uniflora

Bauhinia forficata grows in South American, and is used in Brazilian herbal cures. This plant has been referred to as ‘vegetable insulin’. Myrcia uniflora is also widely employed in South America. Studies utilising the herbs as tea infusions suggest that their hypoglycaemic effects are overrated.

Coccinia indica

Coccinia indica is also known as the ‘ivy gourd’ and grows wild across the Indian subcontinent. Traditionally employed in ayurverdic remedies, the herb has been found to contain insulin-mimetic properties (i.e; it mimics the function of insulin).

Significant changes in glycaemic control have been reported in studies involving coccinia indican, and experts believe that it should be studied further.

Ficus carica

Ficus carican, or fig-leaf, is well known as a diabetic remedy in Spain and South-western Europen, but its active component is unknown. Some studies on animals suggest that fig-leaf facilitates glucose uptake.

The efficacy of the plant is, however, still yet to be validated in the treatment of diabetes.

Ginseng

Ginseng is a collective name for a variety of different plant species.

In some studies utilising American ginseng, decreases in fasting blood glucose were reported. Varieties include Korean ginseng, Siberian ginseng, American ginseng and Japanese ginseng.

In some fields the plant, particularly the panax species, are hailed as ‘cure-all.’ As is the case with many of the herbs employed around the world in the treatment of diabetics, further long-term studies are needed to verify the efficacy of ginseng.

Gymnema sylvestre

Gymnema sylvestre is also employed in traditional ayurverdic medicine. The plant grows in the tropical forests of southern and central India, and has been linked with significant blood glucose lowering Some studies in animals have even reported regeneration of islet cells and an increase in beta-cell function.

Momordica charantia

Momordica Charantia goes under a variety of names and is native to some areas of Asia, India, Africa and South America. Marketed as charantia, it is also known as karela or karolla and bitter melon. The herb may be prepared in a variety of different ways, and may be able to help diabetics with insulin secretio, glucose oxidation and other processes.

Acute effects on blood glucose levels have also been reported.

Ocimum sanctum

Ocimum sanctum is an herb employed in traditional ayurverdic practises, and is commonly known as holy basil. A controlled clinical trial showed a positive effect on postprandial and fasting glucose, and experts predict that the herb could enhance the functioning of beta cells, and facilitate the insulin secretion process.

Opuntia streptacantha

Opuntia streptacantha (nopal) is commonly known as the prickly-pear cactus in the arid regions where it grows.

Inhabitants of the Mexican desert have traditionally employed the plant in glucose control. Intestinal glucose uptake may be affected by some properties of the plant, and animal studies have found significant decreases in postprandial glucose and HbA1c.

Once again, to validate the prickly-pear cactus as an effective means of aiding diabetic patients, long-term clinical trials are needed.

Silibum marianum

Silibum marianum is also known as milk thistle, and is a member of the aster family. Silymarin contains high concentrations of flavinoids and antioxidants, some of which may have a beneficial effect on insulin resistance. The role of milk thistle in glycaemic control is little understood.

Trigonella foenum graecum

Trigonella foenum graecum is known as fenugreek and is widely grown in India, North African, and parts of the Mediterranean.

It is also a part of Ayurverdic treatment, and is used extensively in cooking.

Of the few non-controlled trials that have been carried out on type 2 diabetics, most report improved glycaemic control. Further study is certainly warranted.

Further herbs that have been studied, and may have positive effects for diabetic patients include:

  • Berberine
  • Cinnamomym tamala
  • Curry
  • Eugenia jambolana
  • Gingko
  • Phyllanthus amarus
  • Pterocarpus marsupium
  • Solanum torvum and
  • Vinca rosea

Alternative medicines are popular, but do any of them really work?

If people want to burn fat, detoxify livers, shrink prostates, avoid colds, stimulate brains, boost energy, reduce stress, enhance immunity, prevent cancer, extend lives, enliven sex or eliminate pain, all they have to do is walk in to a vitamin store and look around.

The shelves will be lined with ginkgo or rose and orange oils touted as aids for memory; guarana and cordyceps for energy; chicory root for constipation; lemon balm oil, ashwagandha, eleuthero, Siberian ginseng and holy basil for stress; sage and black cohosh for menstrual pain; coconut oil and curry powder for Alzheimer’s disease; saw palmetto for prostate health; sandalwood bark to prevent aging; garlic for high cholesterol; peppermint oil for allergies; artichoke extract and green papaya for digestion; echinacea for colds; chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine for joint pain; milk thistle for hepatitis; St. John’s wort for depression; and tongkat ali for sexual potency.

The question, however, is: Which products work? And how do we know they work? Fortunately, thanks to James Lind, we can figure it out.

When Lind climbed aboard the HMS Salisbury intent on testing whether citrus was a cure for scurvy in 1740, he moved medicine from a faith-based system to an evidence-based system. No longer do we believe in treatments. We can test them to see whether they work.

Although the size and cost of clinical studies have increased dramatically since the days of Lind, the claims made about alternative remedies are testable, eminently testable.

In that sense, there’s no such thing as alternative medicine. If clinical trials show that a therapy works, it’s good medicine. And if a therapy doesn’t work, then it’s not an alternative.

For example, Hippocrates used the leaves of the willow plant to treat headaches and muscle pains. By the early 1800s, scientists had isolated the active ingredient: aspirin. In the 1600s, a Spanish physician found that the bark of the cinchona tree treated malaria. Later, cinchona bark was shown to contain quinine, a medicine now proven to kill the parasite that causes malaria. In the late 1700s, William Withering used the foxglove plant to treat people with heart failure. Later, foxglove was found to contain digitalis, a drug that increases heart contractility. More recently, artemisia, an herb used by Chinese healers for more than a thousand years, was found to contain another anti-malaria drug, which was later called artemisinin.

“Herbal remedies are not really alternative,” writes Steven Novella, a Yale neurologist. “They have been part of scientific medicine for decades, if not centuries. Herbs are drugs, and they can be studied as drugs.”

Looking at the claims

In many case, though, when natural products have been put to the test, they’ve fallen short of their claims. For instance, although mainstream medicine hasn’t found a way to treat dementia or enhance memory, practitioners of alternative medicine claim that they have: ginkgo biloba. As a consequence, ginkgo is one of the 10 most commonly used natural products.

Yet between 2000 and 2008, the National Institutes of Health funded a collaborative study by the University of Washington, the University of Pittsburgh, Wake Forest University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of California at Davis to determine whether ginkgo worked. More than 3,000 elderly adults were randomly assigned to receive ginkgo or a placebo. Decline in memory and onset of dementia were the same in both groups. In 2012, a study of more than 2,800 adults found that ginkgo didn’t ward off Alzheimer’s disease.

Another example is St. John’s wort. Every year, 10 million people suffer major depression in the United States, and every year 35,000 people kill themselves. Depression is a serious illness; to treat it, scientists have developed medicines that alter brain chemicals such as serotonin. Called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), these drugs are licensed by the FDA and have been shown to help with severe depression.

But some people have heard there’s a more natural, safer way to treat severe depression: St. John’s wort. Because so many people use the herb and because depression, if not properly treated, can lead to suicide, researchers studied it. Between November 1998 and January 2000, 11 academic medical centers randomly assigned 200 outpatients to receive St. John’s wort or a placebo: The results showed no difference in any measure of depression.

Another favorite home remedy is garlic, to lower cholesterol. Because high cholesterol is associated with heart disease, because heart disease is a leading cause of death, because lipid-lowering agents lower cholesterol and because many people are choosing garlic instead of lipid-lowering agents, researchers studied it. In 2007, Christopher Gardner and co-workers at Stanford University School of Medicine evaluated the effects of garlic on 192 adults with high levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Six days a week for six months, participants received either raw garlic, powdered garlic, aged garlic extract or a placebo. After checking cholesterol levels monthly, investigators concluded, “None of the forms of garlic used in this study . . . had statistically or clinically significant effects on low-density lipoprotein cholesterol or other plasma lipid concentrations in adults with moderate hypercholesterolemia.”

Saw palmetto for the prostate is also popular. As a man ages, his prostate enlarges, which blocks the flow of urine. If untreated, prostate enlargement can cause urinary tract infections, bladder stones and kidney failure. Medicines that relax muscles within the prostate or reduce its size have been available for years. But more than 2 million men turn to saw palmetto instead.

In 2006, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, supported a study at the University of California at San Francisco, the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Northern California Kaiser Permanente. Investigators assigned 225 men with moderate to severe symptoms of prostate enlargement to receive either saw palmetto or a placebo twice daily for a year: They found no difference between the two groups in urinary flow rate, prostate size or quality of life.

Five years later, the study was repeated with 369 men, this time with higher doses. Again, no change in urinary symptoms. “Now we know that even very high doses of saw palmetto make absolutely no difference,” said study author Gerald Andriole. “It clearly does not work any better than a sugar pill.”

Another popular remedy is milk thistle, which some have said can help patients with chronic hepatitis or other liver problems.

In 2011, Michael Fried of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill led a group of investigators testing those claims. More than 150 people infected with hepatitis C virus were given either milk thistle or a placebo. Then investigators determined the amount of liver damage, as well as the quantities of hepatitis C virus in blood. They found no difference between the two groups.

And what about chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine for joint pain? In 2006, Daniel Clegg of the University of Utah led a group of investigators to see whether it worked. They studied more than 1,500 people with knee osteoarthritis who were given either chondroitin sulfate alone, glucosamine alone, both, a placebo or Celebrex (an FDA-licensed anti-inflammatory drug). Only Celebrex worked for all subgroups in the study.

One of the most popular herbal remedies in the United States is echinacea. Used to treat colds, it’s a $130-million-a-year business. In 2003, James Taylor and co-workers at the University of Washington in Seattle studied more than 400 children with colds who had received either echinacea or a placebo for 10 days. The only difference: Children taking echinacea were more likely to develop a rash.

Some do work

Yet, some dietary supplements might be of benefit for otherwise healthy people: calcium and Vitamin D in post-menopausal women to prevent bone thinning, and folic acid during pregnancy to prevent birth defects.

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, required for vascular tone, muscle function, nerve transmission and hormone secretion. Less than 1 percent of total body calcium is necessary for performing these functions. The remaining 99 percent is stored in bones, where it supports bone structure and function. The problem with calcium occurs when people get older.

In children and teenagers, bone formation exceeds bone breakdown. In early and middle adulthood, these two processes occur at equal rates. Past the age of 50, however, especially in post-menopausal women, bone destruction exceeds bone formation, leaving them vulnerable to fractures. Every year, more than 1.5 million fractures occur in the United States because of bone thinning. The best way to avoid this problem is to eat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese, or calcium-fortified fruit juices, cereals and other foods.

Because most women get enough calcium in their diet and because supplementary calcium has not been shown to reduce fractures in otherwise healthy post-menopausal women, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend supplemental calcium.

But calcium is linked to Vitamin D. People who take in adequate amounts of calcium might still have a problem with bone strength if they do not also get enough Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. To get an adequate amount of Vitamin D, people need only expose their face, arms, hands or back to sunlight (without sunblock) for 10 to 15 minutes a day at least twice a week. This will provide the 600 international units of Vitamin D recommended by the Institute of Medicine.

Some people, however, can’t or don’t do this. For this reason, many foods are supplemented with Vitamin D, such as milk, bread, pastries, oil spreads, breakfast cereals and some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine and soy beverages. Because most people get enough Vitamin D in their foods or from exposure to sunlight, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend supplemental Vitamin D.

There are, however, two exceptions: Babies who are exclusively breast-fed should receive 400 international units a day of supplemental Vitamin D, because it isn’t contained in human milk and because they don’t get out into the sun much; and adults older than 65 should receive 800 units daily because this has been shown to reduce the high risk of bone fractures.

Finally, folic acid is a B-complex vitamin necessary for the production of red blood cells. Without folic acid, people develop anemia. Researchers have shown that folic-acid deficiency can also cause something far worse: severe birth defects. Pregnant women deficient in folic acid have delivered babies with malformations of the spine, skull and brain. To avoid folic-acid deficiency, people need about 400 micrograms a day.

Foods rich in folic acid include vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, lettuce, turnip greens, okra and asparagus; fruits such as bananas, melons and lemons; and beans, yeast, mushrooms, beef liver and kidney, orange juice and tomato juice. Although there are plenty of sources of this nutrient, many pregnant women weren’t getting enough folic acid in their diets. So in 1998, the FDA required manufacturers to add folic acid to breads, breakfast cereals, flours, cornmeals, pastas, white rice, bakery items, cookies, crackers and some grains. As a result, it is now almost impossible to become folic-acid deficient.

Nonetheless, women of childbearing years are advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, obtained either from foods or supplements or both.

In the end, if a medicine works (such as folic acid to prevent birth defects), it’s valuable; and if it doesn’t work (such as saw palmetto to shrink prostates), it’s not. “There’s a name for alternative medicines that work,” says Joe Schwarcz, professor of chemistry and the director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal. “It’s called medicine.”

Offit is chief of the division of infectious diseases and director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This article was excerpted from his new book, “Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine,” copyright 2013 by Paul Offit, M.D. Reprinted by permission of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Herbal medicines are used by about a quarter of adults in the UK, the market is worth at least £485m, and they have a powerful advocate in Prince Charles. In one of his recently published “black spider” letters, sent to Tony Blair in 2005, the Prince urged a delay implementing EU restrictions on herbal medicines: “I think we both agreed this was using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.” But concerns over safety, standardisation, interactions with other drugs, as well as extravagant claims and lack of evidence for efficacy have all led to attempts to regulate herbal medicine and its practitioners.

Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, says they should be judged in the same way as conventional ones: “If a therapy demonstrably generates more good than harm, it should be considered for routine use.” The problem is that, without good clinical trials, it is hard to say whether a medicine does work – and trials are expensive, time-consuming and hard to organise, especially for small manufacturers.

Since 2011, products have to be registered with the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and granted a traditional herbal registration (THR) before going on sale. The MHRA usually requires drugs to be of sufficient quality, safety and effectiveness but, in the case of herbal medicines, it recognised the difficulty in providing evidence of effectiveness and asked only for proof of quality and safety and patient information. Reassuringly, registration means that hundreds of potentially dangerous products have been banned.

However, herbal practitioners don’t need a licence to supply medicines that they create on their own premises following one-to-one consultations, as long as they don’t contain banned substances. Practitioners may voluntarily sign up to one of a number of organisations, but these have no clout. Even if the organisation kicks them off its list for bad practice, there is nothing to stop them setting up in the high street.

So, on the plus side, over-the-counter herbal medicines in the UK are now safe and available in a fixed dose. But is there evidence that any of them work?

Depression

Each year, 1.5m packs of St John’s wort (Hypericum extract) are sold in the UK. Trials suggest it is more effective than placebo, and as effective as prescribed antidepressant drugs such as Prozac in mild-to-moderate depression. Though generally safe, it can interact with other drugs such as the contraceptive pill. It isn’t recommended for children, or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding because of a lack of high-quality studies.

Many drugs used to treat cancer are derived from plants – such as vincristine, which comes from the periwinkle. Photograph: Alamy

Cancer

Justin Stebbing, professor of cancer medicine at Imperial College, London, says that many people turn to herbal medicine and complementary therapies when they feel shortchanged by conventional medicine.

“We need to look at a whole jigsaw of options in treating cancer – diet, anti-inflammatory drugs and others – to see how it fits in with chemotherapy. Many drugs used to treat cancer are derived from plants, such as taxol from yew trees and vincristine from periwinkle.” The herb milk thistle may have liver-protective effects that can be useful in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. “It’s definitely worthy of further study,” he says.

Menopause

Black cohosh and red clover are often used to reduce menopausal hot flushes. Standardised formulations are safe but there is no evidence that they are more effective than placebo. One small study showed improvement in libido and hot flushes in 15 women given nutrition and lifestyle advice and a tailor-made herbal prescription, compared with a control group.

Aloe vera is used by some people with diabetes to lower blood sugar. Photograph: Alamy

Diabetes

Many people with diabetes turn to natural herbs and spices to lower blood sugar, including aloe vera, bilberry extract, bitter melon, ginger, cinnamon and okra. The risks are that either they don’t work, resulting in uncontrolled diabetes, or they may work well, but in an erratic way, causing low blood sugar levels, especially when taken with conventional sugar-lowering drugs such as insulin.

Ayurvedic physicians use a mixture of herbs and lifestyle advice. A Cochrane collaboration review of seven trials of Ayurvedic medicines used to treat diabetes found some positive results and no serious side-effects, but said no firm conclusions could be drawn. Potentially harmful levels of metals, including lead, mercury and arsenic, have been found in up to a fifth of Ayurvedic products bought online.

Asthma

Some herbal remedies may be effective in treating asthma. An analysis of 17 randomised controlled trials into the use of herbal preparations in asthma (Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine) found a significant improvement in more than half of the trials. The herbs included Tylophora indica, marijuana and dried leaf extract among others, though the analysis couldn’t identify which was effective. However, many herbs interact with conventional treatment. St John’s wort makes the asthma-relieving drug aminophylline less effective, so symptoms may get worse. Herbalists often stock royal jelly, made by bees, which is marketed for use in asthma, among other conditions. But Asthma UK strongly recommends that people with asthma and allergies don’t take it as there have been reports of severe, and occasionally fatal, asthma and allergic attacks.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Many people with IBS turn to herbal medicines to help control symptoms of diarrhoea, bloating and abdominal cramps. Traditional Chinese medicine uses formulas including rhubarb, tangerine, cardamom and liquorice and five or more herbs. Individual herbs can be used for specific symptoms; UK doctors prescribe peppermint oil capsules for bloating and cramps in IBS, even though evidence is limited. Ginger is widely believed to help nausea, with some evidence that it is better than placebo in morning sickness and sea-sickness though not necessarily in IBS. Iberogast is a combination of nine herbs and plant extracts, and appears to be effective in treating symptoms of indigestion and IBS with minimal side-effects.

• This article was amended on 9 June 2015 to correct the spelling of Ayurvedic medicine.

Herbal Medicine

What are herbal supplements?

Products made from botanicals, or plants, that are used to treat diseases or to maintain health are called herbal products, botanical products, or phytomedicines. A product made from plants and used solely for internal use is called an herbal supplement.

Many prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines are also made from plant products, but these products contain only purified ingredients and are regulated by the FDA. Herbal supplements may contain entire plants or plant parts.

Herbal supplements come in all forms: dried, chopped, powdered, capsule, or liquid, and can be used in various ways, including:

  • Swallowed as pills, powders, or tinctures

  • Brewed as tea

  • Applied to the skin as gels, lotions, or creams

  • Added to bath water

The practice of using herbal supplements dates back thousands of years. Today, the use of herbal supplements is common among American consumers. However, they are not for everyone. Because they are not subject to close scrutiny by the FDA, or other governing agencies, the use of herbal supplements remains controversial. It is best to consult your doctor about any symptoms or conditions you have and to discuss the use of herbal supplements.

The FDA and herbal supplements

The FDA considers herbal supplements foods, not drugs. Therefore, they are not subject to the same testing, manufacturing, and labeling standards and regulations as drugs.

You can now see labels that explain how herbs can influence different actions in the body. However, herbal supplement labels can’t refer to treating specific medical conditions. This is because herbal supplements are not subject to clinical trials or to the same manufacturing standards as prescription or traditional over-the-counter drugs.

For example, St. John’s wort is a popular herbal supplement thought to be useful for treating depression in some cases. A product label on St. John’s wort might say, “enhances mood,” but it cannot claim to treat a specific condition, such as depression.

Herbal supplements, unlike medicines, are not required to be standardized to ensure batch-to-batch consistency. Some manufacturers may use the word standardized on a supplement label, but it does not necessarily mean the same thing from one manufacturer to the next.

Precautions when choosing herbal supplements

Herbal supplements can interact with conventional medicines or have strong effects. Do not self-diagnose. Talk to your doctor before taking herbal supplements.

  • Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about the herbs you are taking by consulting your doctor and contacting herbal supplement manufacturers for information.

  • If you use herbal supplements, follow label instructions carefully and use the prescribed dosage only. Never exceed the recommended dosage, and seek out information about who should not take the supplement.

  • Work with a professional. Seek out the services of a trained and licensed herbalist or naturopathic doctor who has extensive training in this area.

  • Watch for side effects. If symptoms, such as nausea, dizziness, headache, or upset stomach, occur, reduce the dosage or stop taking the herbal supplement.

  • Be alert for allergic reactions. A severe allergic reaction can cause trouble breathing. If such a problem occurs, call 911 or the emergency number in your area for help.

  • Research the company whose herbs you are taking. All herbal supplements are not created equal, and it is best to choose a reputable manufacturer’s brand. Ask yourself:

    • Is the manufacturer involved in researching its own herbal products or simply relying on the research efforts of others?

    • Does the product make outlandish or hard-to-prove claims?

    • Does the product label give information about the standardized formula, side effects, ingredients, directions, and precautions?

    • Is label information clear and easy to read?

    • Is there a toll-free telephone number, an address, or a website address listed so consumers can find out more information about the product?

What are some of the most common herbal supplements?

The following list of common herbal supplements is for informational purposes only. Talk to your doctor to discuss specific your medical conditions or symptoms. Do not self-diagnose, and talk to your doctor before taking any herbal supplements.

Black cohosh

This shrub-like plant of eastern North America derives its name from the Native American word for “rough” (referring to its root structure). It is generally used for menopausal conditions, painful menstruation, uterine spasms, and vaginitis.

Echinacea

Often used to strengthen the body’s immune system, echinacea is also considered a prevention against colds and flu. This U.S. native plant is also called the purple coneflower.

Evening primrose

Oil from this night-blooming, bright yellow flowering plant may be helpful in reducing symptoms of arthritis and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Feverfew

The pain-relieving properties of feverfew have been used for migraine headaches, as well as for menstrual cramps.

Garlic

Garlic is generally used for cardiovascular conditions, including high cholesterol and triglyceride levels associated with the risk of atherosclerosis.

Gingko biloba

This herb is used for many conditions associated with aging, including poor circulation and memory loss.

Ginseng

Used as a general tonic to increase overall body tone, ginseng is considered helpful in elevating energy levels and improving resistance to stress.

Goldenseal

This herb, native to America, is popular for its healing properties and antiseptic, or germ-stopping, qualities. Often used for colds and flu, it is also popular for soothing the nose lining when it is inflamed or sore.

Green tea

This herb is used to combat fatigue, prevent arteriosclerosis and certain cancers, lower cholesterol, and aid in weight loss.

Hawthorn

Hawthorn is popularly used for several heart-related conditions and is supportive in the treatment of angina, atherosclerosis, heart failure, and high blood pressure.

Saw palmetto

Saw palmetto may be used for enlarged prostate, a common condition in men over age 50.

St. John’s wort

Wild-growing with yellow flowers, this herb has been used for centuries in the treatment of mental disorders. Today, it is a popular recommendation for mild to moderate depression.

It is important to remember that herbal supplements are not subject to regulation by the FDA and, therefore, have not been tested in an FDA-approved clinical trial to prove their effectiveness in the treatment or management of medical conditions. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and discuss herbal supplements before use.

Herbal medicine

What is herbal medicine?

Herbal medicine – also known as botanical medicine, phytotherapy or phytomedicine – involves using a plant or part of a plant for healing purposes. The herbal part of a remedy may come from the leaf, flower, stem, seed, root, fruit or bark of the plant and it may be used to treat wounds and a range of other conditions.

History of herbal medicine

Herbal medicine is considered to be the most ancient form of healing. Herbs have been used in most traditional cultures and have had a major influence on many systems of medicine, including traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine, Native American and Indigenous Australian medicine and also conventional medicine.

Written records of Roman, Egyptian, Persian and Hebrew cultures show that herbs were used to treat practically every known illness. The history of herbal medicine is actually part of the history of medicine itself and herbal knowledge came to Europe from the Middle East during the crusades. Many prescription medicines used today were originally derived from trees, shrubs or herbs.

Herbal medicine is used worldwide

Today there are many types of herbal medicine, which have been developed by different cultures around the world. In Australia, the most common types are traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic, Indigenous and Western (European) herbal medicine. The different types of herbal medicine all have in common that they use medicinal plants, but they vary in which plants they use, how they prepare and apply them and the philosophies behind their approaches to treatment.

Although herbal medicine is classed as ‘alternative’ or ‘complementary’ in most Western countries, it remains the only form of medicine widely available to much of the world’s population.

Plants: an untapped healing resource

There are an estimated 400,000 plants known today, but only a fraction of these have been studied or used medicinally. Many researchers believe that there are plants as yet unrecognised for their healing powers. Pharmaceutical companies and others are actively investigating the potential of plants to provide new antibiotics and other medicines.

How does herbal medicine work?

Herbs contain a large number of naturally occurring chemicals (constituents) that have some type of biological activity. Herbs work in a similar fashion to many pharmaceutical preparations. In fact, some pharmaceutical medicines are still obtained from plants. For example, the malaria medicine quinine is extracted from the bark of the cinchona tree, and the pain medicine morphine is produced from the opium poppy.

Western herbalists, however, believe that herbs should be used in their complete form to ensure the balance of constituents contained in the plant is utilised. They consider that herbal remedies are of most benefit when used to treat chronic, ongoing conditions. There are generally no quick-fix herbal treatments.

Herbalists also believe that herbs can be very effective in the treatment of many conditions, but without the unwanted side effects that are often seen in conventional pharmaceutical treatments. Nevertheless, it should be realised that herbs can be very potent and, if used incorrectly, can cause serious adverse effects.

Also some herbs can affect how your body responds to prescription and over-the-counter medicines, either decreasing or increasing the effects of these medicines. For example, St John’s wort can interfere with birth control pills, and gingko biloba can increase your risk of bleeding with anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medicines.

Consult a herbalist

You should always consult a fully trained herbalist before using herbal remedies. Herbalists are trained to know how to mix remedies for specific conditions and symptoms and how much should be taken and for how long. They also aim to treat the person as a whole, using whole plant medicines to stimulate the body’s own healing abilities. Herbs are chosen to suit each person as well as to treat their disease or condition.

Types of herbal remedies

Herbal remedies come in a variety of forms and may be applied internally or externally.

Herbal remedies that are taken internally include:

  • liquid herb extracts;
  • teas;
  • powders; and
  • capsules and tablets.

Herbal remedies that are applied externally include:

  • baths
  • compresses;
  • douches;
  • poultices and plasters;
  • oils;
  • ointments;
  • salves; and
  • wraps.

Uses of herbal medicine

Herbal medicine offers treatments for virtually every ailment affecting any body system. Common conditions seen by herbalists include:

  • skin problems such as psoriasis, acne and eczema;
  • digestive problems such as peptic ulcer, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion and heartburn;
  • heart and circulatory conditions such as angina, high blood pressure, varicose veins and ulcers; and
  • gynaecological disorders such as premenstrual syndrome and menopausal problems.

Other conditions herbalists treat include:

  • arthritis;
  • insomnia;
  • stress and nervous related conditions;
  • headaches and migraine;
  • upper respiratory tract infections;
  • colds and flu; and
  • allergic responses such as hay fever and asthma.

Note that when you see a herbalist you should always tell them what conventional medicines you are taking. You should also tell your doctor if you are planning to start a course of herbal medicine. You should never stop taking your conventional medicines in favour of herbs unless your doctor knows and approves.

Regulation of herbal medicines

Medicinal products containing herbs are regulated in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. If the ingredients are deemed to be higher risk, whether because of their toxicity, likely length of use, side effects, interactions or other feature, the medicine will have to be a “registered” medicine with the designation ‘AUST R’ on the label. If it is deemed low risk, the product can be labelled a “listed medicine” with the label designation ‘AUST L’.

The indications and claims made for listed medicines are not investigated or evaluated before the medicines are marketed, but the manufacturers are required to hold evidence to support any claims they make.

On the other hand, registered complementary medicines are assessed individually for quality, safety and efficacy.

While the TGA can regulate herbal medicines sold over the counter in Australia, it is difficult for it to control plant material or imported herbal medicines such as those bought over the Internet. There are examples of imported ‘herbal’ medicines for weight loss and other conditions that on analysis have been found to contain pharmaceuticals, some of which have been discontinued because of safety concerns, or which could have dangerous effects or interactions with other medicines in some people.

The TGA publishes safety alerts/advisories on its website about medicines of concern and advises consumers to exercise extreme caution in buying medicines over the Internet, as they may not meet the same standards as medicines approved in Australia and can contain unauthorised and potentially harmful ingredients.

Regulation of herbal medicine practitioners

At the time of review, any person in Australia, trained or not, can legally start practising as a herbalist or naturopath. Concerned parties within these professions are working towards establishing a national register of trained naturopaths and herbalists to offer the public greater protection and improve health outcomes. The Government is also working on creating a single registration system for healthcare professionals that may include herbal medicine dispensers, herbalists and naturopaths.

Share this:

Last Reviewed: 01/09/2010

myDr

6 natural remedies that really work

Over the past century, Americans have embraced modern pharmaceutical science and the lifesaving medicines it has produced. In the process, we’ve relegated to folklore the cures our grandparents relied on. As it turns out, that trove is rich with effective remedies. In fact, even modern medicine relies on plants more than many of us realize, says Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD, senior attending pharmacist at Massachusetts General Hospital and chief editor of publications for the Natural Standard Research Collaboration, which evaluates scientific data on herbs.

  1. Don’t miss these Health stories
    1. Splash News More women opting for preventive mastectomy – but should they be?

      Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn’t carry a 100 percent guarantee, it’s major surgery — and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.

    2. Larry Page’s damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
    3. Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
    4. CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
    5. What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says

“Practically all of the most widely used drugs have an herbal origin,” Ulbricht says. “The number one OTC medication, aspirin, is a synthetic version of a compound found in the willow tree. Many statins are based on fungi; and Tamiflu originated from Chinese star anise.”

Following, you’ll find a host of age-old remedies whose remarkable effectiveness has been confirmed by new research. Because botanical medicines can interact with other drugs, tell your doctor when you’re taking them. The exceptions are the common food items — onions, parsley, and cayenne — when consumed in natural form and conventional amounts.

Lemon balm
A balm for the mind

Tradition says: Melissa officinalis, a lemon-scented member of the mint family, has long been used to banish anxiety, boost memory, and aid sleep and digestion. It is “good against the biting of venomous beasts, comforts the heart, and driveth away all melancholy and sadnesse,” wrote Elizabethan-era herbalist John Gerard in 1597.

Research proves: Got a test, presentation, or other stress-filled occasion coming up? As in days of old, a tea made of lemon balm may help you sleep soundly the night before and keep you calm and focused at the moment of truth, says a 2003 article in Neuropsychopharmacology. Research suggests this plant is effective in extreme situations too. Four weeks of Melissa aromatherapy cut agitation in patients with severe dementia, reports a 2002 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, while 4 months of treatment with an alcohol tincture of the plant significantly reduced dementia and agitation in Alzheimer’s patients, according to a 2003 article in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.

Lemon balm appears to calm an overactive thyroid (Graves’ disease), according to Eric Yarnell, ND, an assistant professor of botanical medicine at Bastyr University. It also fights viruses; recent studies indicate that lemon balm cream speeds healing of oral herpes lesions and reduces the frequency of outbreaks.

Get the benefit: For lemon balm’s calming effects, try a daily tea made with one-half to one full dropper of tincture or 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herb steeped in 1 cup of hot water for 5 to 10 minutes, says herbalist Linda Different Cloud, a PhD candidate in ethnobotany at Montana State University. Ask your doctor first if you take thyroid medication, as the botanical may change the amount you need. To use Melissa topically, follow the instructions on OTC creams, such as Cold Sore Relief or WiseWays Herbals Lemon Balm Cream, available online or at drugstores or health food stores.

Onion
A dose of prevention

Tradition says: Onions are considered cure-alls in many cultures. In Middle Eastern traditional medicine, they were prescribed for diabetes. During the early 20th century in the United States, William Boericke, MD, recommended onions for respiratory and digestive problems in his influential medical treatise, Homeopathic Materia Medica. Believing that onions would help improve athletic performance, ancient Greek Olympians scarfed them down, drank their juice, and rubbed them on their bodies before competitions.

Research proves: A stack of new studies has confirmed many old-time uses of onions. Their thiosulfinates (sulfur compounds responsible for their smell) reduce diabetes symptoms and protect against cardiovascular disease. Quercetin, a flavonoid found in onions, prevents the inflammation associated with allergies and also protects against stomach ulcers and colon, esophageal, and breast cancers.

And it looks like the ancient Olympians had it right: A 2009 study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that quercetin extract increased endurance — making onions a perfectly legal performance-enhancing substance.

Get the benefit: Onions may keep the doctor away even better than apples do. Your body absorbs quercetin from onions at least 3 times faster than it does from apples (or from tea, another top source), says a report for the Federation of European Biochemical Societies. To get the most thiosulfinates, choose red or yellow onions. “The more colorful, the better,” says Michael Havey, PhD, a USDA geneticist and University of Wisconsin professor of horticulture.

Heat diminishes the thiosulfinates, so eat onions raw or lightly cooked, Havey adds. “Because of differences among types of onions and preparation methods, it’s impossible to say how much to eat,” he says. “Make them a regular part of a vegetable-and fruit-filled diet.”

Cayenne
Pain fighter
Tradition says: Columbus is credited with transporting cayenne peppers — also called chiles, after their Aztec name, chil — from the New World to the Old. Consumed in the Americas for some 7,000 years, the fiery-flavored pods reminded the explorer of black pepper, a highly prized — and pricey — spice in Europe at the time. The easy-to-grow chile quickly assumed a central role in traditional cookery and remedies worldwide; folk medicine practitioners used it for everything from pain relief to aphrodisiacs.

Research proves: Capsaicin, the ingredient that gives cayenne its heat, is best known today for pain relief — easing muscle aches, postoperative discomfort, and arthritis. Studies show that it tamps down chemical messengers that transmit pain messages in the brain.

The latest research indicates that the sizzling spice may also assist in weight control. A 2009 paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that capsaicin-related compounds helped people lose abdominal fat. Cayenne also appears to control blood sugar. Study participants who ate a lunch containing capsaicin had higher blood levels of a sugar-regulating hormone and less ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” than those who ate a bland meal, reported the European Journal of Nutrition last year.

Get the benefit: For pain relief, follow package instructions on OTC capsaicin ointments and creams, including Zostrix or Capzasin-HP Arthritis Pain Relief, available in drugstores or online. No dose has been established for weight control; however, cayenne peppers are on the FDA’s Generally Recognized As Safe list, so you can add fresh chiles to taste in your favorite dishes (or, more conveniently, powdered cayenne, available in supermarkets). Chop finely, then cook them in soups and stews or add them uncooked to salad dressings.

Plantain
Your skin’s best friend

Tradition says: Plantain, or Plantago major, a low-growing, oval-leafed plant found all over the globe, is a traditional remedy for skin ailments. Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th-century Benedictine abbess, healer, composer, and eventually saint, suggested applying it to insect bites in her renowned medical treatise, Physica. Native Americans apply plantain poultices to insect stings, wounds, burns, and more, says Different Cloud, who lives on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North and South Dakota. (Note: Do not confuse this leafy plant with a very different, banana-like tropical fruit that happens to have the same name.)

Research proves: The plant’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties help heal breaks in the skin, researchers have found. Its soothing effects work internally too: Psyllium, the seed of one type of plantain, is the source of the fiber in some laxatives.

Get the benefit: Plantain is difficult to identify, so you’re best off buying it from an herbalist. Different Cloud recommends steeping 1/2 cup of dried plantain in 2 cups of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes. Dip a clean cloth or compress in the warm liquid and place on skin for up to 30 minutes, changing cloths and repeating as necessary. For poison ivy, try Tecnu Rash Relief spray, which contains skin-calming plantain and the traditional itch-relieving herb Grindelia, available at drugstores or online.

Parsley
Urinary tract aid

Tradition says: Parsley root can be used for diseases of the urinary tract, wrote botanist and apothecary John Parkinson in a treatment recommendation he prepared for the Queen of England in 1629. Centuries later, Boericke’s Homeopathic Materia Medica recommended parsley for urinary tract ailments, as did The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, a manual of the Eclectics, a group of U.S. physicians who practiced from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s and were famous for their use of North American botanicals.

Of course, after you’ve eaten all those onions, you’ll also need this breath freshener of yore. “The strong smell of onions is quite taken away by the eating of parsley leaves,” counseled Parkinson.

20 Home Remedies Everyone Should Know

09 Oct 20 Home Remedies Everyone Should Know

Posted at 23:13h in To Your Health by maree

The healthcare teams at CureJoy, an online health and wellness advice platform that uses advice based on natural and proven alternative medicine disciplines, gave their twenty remedies you can do at home to get and stay healthy. Here are what everyone should know:

  1. Having pomegranate’s juice daily is good for the heart and useful for people suffering from low blood pressure.
  2. One natural treatment for acidity is chewing a few Basil (tulsi) leaves after a meal. This not just works as an antacid as it helps the body absorb food but also prevents reflux and the formation of ulcers.
  3. Sucking a piece of Clove after a meal helps in reducing acidity problem.
  4. A flake of garlic swallowed with water taken empty stomach daily in the morning can be helpful in solving many stomach & gastric problems.
  5. A headache caused by summer heat is cured by consuming watermelon juice. Just one glass a day works wonders!
  6. Eating an apple on an empty stomach in the morning relieves one of migraine pain. This must be done for a few mornings. I have been a migraine patient for the past 10 years and this one worked most for me.
  7. Open 6 dates and boil in 1/2 liter of milk for 25 minutes over low heat. Drink three cups a day. This is the ultimate dry cough remedy.
  8. Mix 2 teaspoons of honey with equal quantity of ginger juice. The concoction helps to expectorate mucus, providing relief for the common cold, coughs and sore throat.
  9. Eat, before breakfast, half a cup of cooked beets if you suffer from chronic constipation or indigestion.
  10. Ayurveda cough syrup at home. Peel and chop six medium onions. Put the pieces in a container and add four tablespoons of honey. Cover and leave them in a water bath over low heat for two hours. Strain and take one tablespoon every three hours.
  11. Grated cucumber applied over the face, eyes, and neck for fifteen minutes is very beneficial for acne and blackheads.
  12. A simple remedy for anemia or iron deficiency – Pound 3-4 soft dates with milk and add a little ghee in it. Eating this mixture will help to prevent Anemia.
  13. Home Remedy to Cure Dark Circles- Tomato paste is one of the most effective remedies for dark circles. You can make it easily at home. Take one or two fresh tomatoes, one tablespoon of lemon juice and a pinch of gram flour and turmeric powder. Blend these ingredients nicely until they become a thick paste and apply it very gently around your eyes. Rinse it off gently with clean water after 10 or 20 minutes. Repeating this process twice or thrice every week will make your skin tone around your eyes lighter and will eventually make your dark circles go away completely.
  14. Best natural remedy for a sore throat is to gargle with turmeric and salt. Mix: ½ cup of warm water ½ tsp salt ¼ tsp powdered turmeric After you gargle, don’t drink or eat anything for at least ½ hr for the salt and turmeric to do their job of killing bacteria. You can repeat this as often as you need throughout the day.
  15. A drop garlic juice into your ear helps to relieve the pain of an ear infection.
  16. A mixture of baking soda and lemon juice applied underarms will reduce body odor. Natural Cleaning with Lemons and Baking Soda
  17. Add a few fennel seeds in a pot of hot water, and then boil it for five minutes on a low temperature. Strain the solution and then drink it. You can also chew the fresh fennel leafy plants if you can bear the taste. Else you can take a mixture of fennel, cardamom and mint leaves and boil them in water to make a concoction that can help during stomach gas. This is a very effective Home Remedy for Gas and Bloating
  18. Lemon is one of the richest sources of Vitamin C on the planet and it also contains nutrients like Vitamin B, riboflavin, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. Lemon juice with warm water can also help eliminate waste in your system and serve as a Liver Tonic. Daily intake of lemon water has several health benefits: It keeps your stomach healthy; acts as a cure for nausea, heartburn, indigestion, high blood pressure, stress, and depression.
  19. When you suffer from a hangover, a banana milkshake with honey can give you immense relief. Cold milk soothes the stomach lining and bananas with honey build up depleted blood sugar levels.
  20. Home Remedies Treatment for a Cough – For a severe cough, mix tulsi juice with garlic juice and honey. A teaspoon of this mixture is taken once every three hours will treat excessive coughing.

For more information or if your symptoms persist and you need to make an appointment, please call us at 226-2228. Everyone welcome, most insurances accepted!

Bookshelf

1.1. HERBAL MEDICINE: A GROWING FIELD WITH A LONG TRADITION

Traditional medicine is “the knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures, used in the maintenance of health and in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness” (World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/topics/traditional_medicine/en/). There are many different systems of traditional medicine, and the philosophy and practices of each are influenced by the prevailing conditions, environment, and geographic area within which it first evolved (WHO 2005), however, a common philosophy is a holistic approach to life, equilibrium of the mind, body, and the environment, and an emphasis on health rather than on disease. Generally, the focus is on the overall condition of the individual, rather than on the particular ailment or disease from which the patient is suffering, and the use of herbs is a core part of all systems of traditional medicine (Engebretson 2002; Conboy et al. 2007; Rishton 2008; Schmidt et al. 2008).

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an important example of how ancient and accumulated knowledge is applied in a holistic approach in present day health care. TCM has a history of more than 3000 years (Xutian, Zhang, and Louise 2009). The book The Devine Farmer’s Classic of Herbalism was compiled about 2000 years ago in China and is the oldest known herbal text in the world, though the accumulated and methodically collected information on herbs has been developed into various herbal pharmacopoeias and many monographs on individual herbs exist.

Diagnosis and treatment are based on a holistic view of the patient and the patient’s symptoms, expressed in terms of the balance of yin and yang. Yin represents the earth, cold, and femininity, whereas yang represents the sky, heat, and masculinity. The actions of yin and yang influence the interactions of the five elements composing the universe: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. TCM practitioners seek to control the yin and yang levels through 12 meridians, which bring and channel energy (Qi) through the body. TCM is a growing practice around the world and is used for promoting health as well as for preventing and curing diseases. TCM encompasses a range of practices, but herbal medicine is a core part (Engebretson 2002; Nestler 2002; Schmidt et al. 2008; Xutian, Zhang, and Louise 2009). Three of the top-selling botanical products, namely Ginkgo biloba, Allium sativum (garlic), and Panax ginseng, can be traced back to origins in TCM and are today used to treat various diseases (Li, Jiang, and Chen 2008; Xutian, Zhang, and Louise 2009).

Over the past 100 years, the development and mass production of chemically synthesized drugs have revolutionized health care in most parts of the word. However, large sections of the population in developing countries still rely on traditional practitioners and herbal medicines for their primary care. In Africa up to 90% and in India 70% of the population depend on traditional medicine to help meet their health care needs. In China, traditional medicine accounts for around 40% of all health care delivered and more than 90% of general hospitals in China have units for traditional medicine (WHO 2005). However, use of traditional medicine is not limited to developing countries, and during the past two decades public interest in natural therapies has increased greatly in industrialized countries, with expanding use of ethnobotanicals. In the United States, in 2007, about 38% of adults and 12% of children were using some form of traditional medicine (Ernst, Schmidt, and Wider 2005; Barnes, Bloom, and Nahin 2008). According to a survey by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Barnes, Bloom, and Nahin 2008), herbal therapy or the usage of natural products other than vitamins and minerals was the most commonly used alternative medicine (18.9%) when all use of prayer was excluded. A survey conducted in Hong Kong in 2003 reported that 40% of the subjects surveyed showed marked faith in TCM compared with Western medicine (Chan et al. 2003). In a survey of 21,923 adults in the United States, 12.8% took at least one herbal supplement (Harrison et al. 2004) and in another survey (Qato et al. 2008), 42% of respondents used dietary or nutritional supplements, with multivitamins and minerals most commonly used, followed by saw palmetto, flax, garlic, and Ginkgo, at the time of the interview.

The most common reasons for using traditional medicine are that it is more affordable, more closely corresponds to the patient’s ideology, allays concerns about the adverse effects of chemical (synthetic) medicines, satisfies a desire for more personalized health care, and allows greater public access to health information. The major use of herbal medicines is for health promotion and therapy for chronic, as opposed to life-threatening, conditions. However, usage of traditional remedies increases when conventional medicine is ineffective in the treatment of disease, such as in advanced cancer and in the face of new infectious diseases. Furthermore, traditional medicines are widely perceived as natural and safe, that is, not toxic. This is not necessarily true, especially when herbs are taken with prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, or other herbs, as is very common (Canter and Ernst 2004; Qato et al. 2008; Loya, Gonzalez-Stuart, and Rivera 2009; Cohen and Ernst 2010).

Regardless of why an individual uses it, traditional medicine provides an important health care service whether people have physical or financial access to allopathic medicine, and it is a flourishing global commercial enterprise (Engebretson 2002; Conboy et al. 2007; Evans et al. 2007). In 1990, expenditure associated with “alternative” therapy in the United States was estimated to be US$13.7 billion. This had doubled by the year 1997, with herbal medicines growing faster than any other alternative therapy (Eisenberg et al. 1998). In Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, annual expenditure on traditional medicine is estimated to be US$80 million, US$1 billion, and US$2.3 billion, respectively. These figures reflect the incorporation of herbal and other forms of traditional medicine into many health care systems and its inclusion in the medical training of doctors in many parts of the developed world.

The total commercial value of the ethnobotanicals market cannot be ignored. For example, in 1995, the total turnover of nonprescription-bound herbal medicines in pharmacies was equal to almost 30% of the total turnover of nonprescription-bound medicines in Germany, and in the United States, the annual retail sales of herbal products was estimated to be US$5.1 billion. In India, herbal medicine is a common practice, and about 960 plant species are used by the Indian herbal industry, of which 178 are of a high volume, exceeding 100 metric tons per year (Sahoo 2010). In China, the total value of herbal medicine manufactured in 1995 reached 17.6 billion Chinese yuan (approximately US$2.5 billion; Eisenberg et al. 1998; WHO 2001). This trend has continued, and annual revenues in Western Europe reached US$5 billion in 2003-2004 (De Smet 2005). In China, sales of herbal products totaled US$14 billion in 2005, and revenue from herbal medicines in Brazil was US$160 million in 2007 (World Health Organization; http://www.who.int/topics/traditional_medicine/en/). It is estimated that the annual worldwide market for these products approached US$60 billion (Tilburt and Kaptchuk 2008).

Currently, herbs are applied to the treatment of chronic and acute conditions and various ailments and problems such as cardiovascular disease, prostate problems, depression, inflammation, and to boost the immune system, to name but a few. In China, in 2003, traditional herbal medicines played a prominent role in the strategy to contain and treat severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and in Africa, a traditional herbal medicine, the Africa flower, has been used for decades to treat wasting symptoms associated with HIV (De Smet 2005; Tilburt and Kaptchuk 2008). Herbal medicines are also very common in Europe, with Germany and France leading in over-the-counter sales among European countries, and in most developed countries, one can find essential oils, herbal extracts, or herbal teas being sold in pharmacies with conventional drugs.

Herbs and plants can be processed and can be taken in different ways and forms, and they include the whole herb, teas, syrup, essential oils, ointments, salves, rubs, capsules, and tablets that contain a ground or powdered form of a raw herb or its dried extract. Plants and herbs extract vary in the solvent used for extraction, temperature, and extraction time, and include alcoholic extracts (tinctures), vinegars (acetic acid extracts), hot water extract (tisanes), long-term boiled extract, usually roots or bark (decoctions), and cold infusion of plants (macerates). There is no standardization, and components of an herbal extract or a product are likely to vary significantly between batches and producers.

Plants are rich in a variety of compounds. Many are secondary metabolites and include aromatic substances, most of which are phenols or their oxygen-substituted derivatives such as tannins (Hartmann 2007; Jenke-Kodama, Müller, and Dittmann 2008). Many of these compounds have antioxidant properties (see Chapter 2 on antioxidants in herbs and spices). Ethnobotanicals are important for pharmacological research and drug development, not only when plant constituents are used directly as therapeutic agents, but also as starting materials for the synthesis of drugs or as models for pharmacologically active compounds (Li and Vederas 2009). About 200 years ago, the first pharmacologically active pure compound, morphine, was produced from opium extracted from seeds pods of the poppy Papaver somniferum. This discovery showed that drugs from plants can be purified and administered in precise dosages regardless of the source or age of the material (Rousseaux and Schachter 2003; Hartmann 2007). This approach was enhanced by the discovery of penicillin (Li and Vederas 2009). With this continued trend, products from plants and natural sources (such as fungi and marine microorganisms) or analogs inspired by them have contributed greatly to the commercial drug preparations today. Examples include antibiotics (e.g., penicillin, erythromycin); the cardiac stimulant digoxin from foxglove (Digitalis purpurea); salicylic acid, a precursor of aspirin, derived from willow bark (Salix spp.); reserpine, an antipsychotic and antihypertensive drug from Rauwolfia spp.; and antimalarials such as quinine from Cinchona bark and lipid-lowering agents (e.g., lovastatin) from a fungus (Rishton 2008; Schmidt et al. 2008; Li and Vederas 2009). Also, more than 60% of cancer therapeutics on the market or in testing are based on natural products. Of 177 drugs approved worldwide for treatment of cancer, more than 70% are based on natural products or mimetics, many of which are improved with combinatorial chemistry. Cancer therapeutics from plants include paclitaxel, isolated from the Pacific yew tree; camptothecin, derived from the Chinese “happy tree” Camptotheca acuminata and used to prepare irinotecan and topotecan; and combretastatin, derived from the South African bush willow (Brower 2008). It is also estimated that about 25% of the drugs prescribed worldwide are derived from plants, and 121 such active compounds are in use (Sahoo et al. 2010). Between 2005 and 2007, 13 drugs derived from natural products were approved in the United States. More than 100 natural product-based drugs are in clinical studies (Li and Vederas 2009), and of the total 252 drugs in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) essential medicine list, 11% are exclusively of plant origin (Sahoo et al. 2010).

Herbal remedies that work

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *