Herbal Medicine
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Herbs, Herbal Medicines, & Other Dietary Supplements

The area of herbs and herbal medicine is very large and getting larger.  Some can be found elsewhere on this website.  St. John's wort can be found under treatments for depression. St. John's Wort   Like other parts of this website, I do not mean to suggest that everything on herbal medicine is present on this website. 

Unfortunately, much of the research quoted in free advertising magazines found in health food stores is misrepresented as showing something other than it did.  This makes it difficult to separate out true facts from fluff.  It is clear that many herbal treatments are of value, but it is also clear that some of them of totally worthless and many others worth much less than what is claimed.

The individual herbs are listed by alphabetical arrangement under the buttons above.  Some of my personal favorites, each of which I am using daily, are acetyl-carnitine, coenzyme Q10, melatonin, taurine, and policosanol.  I take acetyl-carnitine for muscle soreness after intense exercising, CoQ10 for high blood pressure, melatonin for sleep, taurine for a retinal field condition the optometrist thought I might be getting, and policosanol for it's effect on cholesterol, although my cholesterol has always been low.  I am hoping that there are still more benefits from these supplements.  The research on each looks very good for a wide variety of illnesses.  And I am well over 50, although few would guess it.

I also use a lot of sage, oregano, basil, cinnamon, ginger, stevia, and garlic in cooking.  Sage might help Alzheimer's; oregano and basil are good anti-oxidants; cinnamon increases insulin sensitivity; ginger is good for nausea; stevia as an inexpensive sweetener; and garlic might be good for health.  However, I consume them mainly because they taste good.  

Of the most popular herbs, I really haven't been all that impressed by the research.  I use a little echinacea when I get a cold.  In psychiatric practice, I have used a lot more folic acid and some 5-HTP and anti-depressants rather than St. John's wort.  A few patients had tried St. John's before coming to see me, of course without success otherwise they wouldn't have come in.  Of the others, not many want to try it.  However, the research on St. John's suggests that it is worthwhile for depression with proper precautions.

Curcumin has great animal research, but little human research.  Ginkgo appears to help dementia some, but similar benefits are obtainable more easily from a healthy diet.  Ginseng might help reduce cancer risk some, but most of its claims are wildly exaggerated.  Soy is oversold hype, but I do use it some as a source of vegetable protein.  Green tea tastes good, but it is not clearly better for health than regular tea or coffee.  A lot of herbal remedies are hyped far beyond any research evidence.  Herbal peddlars are even worse than pharmaceutical companies in exaggerating benefits.

Some herbal remedies are well proven for specific diseases, like saw palmetto for benign prostatic hypertrophy or ginger for nausea.  Most need a lot more research.  I apologize that my list is far from complete.

79% Chicago Clinic Patients Using Herbals: Of 500 female patients ages 40-60 (Afro-American 49%, European-American 40%, Hispanic 12%), 79% used some herbal in the past month, 36% used them daily. 51.7% used one or two herbs, whereas 48.4% used three or more. Commonly used botanicals included soy (42%), green tea (35%), chamomile (21%), gingko (21%), ginseng (18%), Echinacea (15%), and St. John's wort (7%). Black cohosh, garlic, red clover, kava, valerian, evening primrose, and ephedra were used by less than 15% of respondents. Efficacy ratings were high for herbs, and 68% claimed to have no side effects. Only 3% of respondents obtained herbal information from healthcare professionals, and 70% of respondents were not informing their physician of BDS use. University of Illinois at Chicago. Botanical dietary supplement use in peri- and postmenopausal women. Mahady GB, Parrot J, Lee C, Yun GS, Dan A. Menopause. 2003 Jan-Feb;10(1):65-72

22% Used in Previous Month: In a U.S. study of 623 normal adults, 22% reported using some alternative medication in the previous month. A study of psychiatric patients at the Medical University of South Carolina found 59% of patients had used some herbal medicine in his lifetime and 32% in past month! 55% of users used for psychiatric symptoms and 52% reported some benefit. Emmanuel, APA 5/30/98.  Of course, the 52% who thought the herbal remedies helped were almost certainly wrong the large majority of the time.  Many people given placebos report that they are of benefit.

Inhibition of Sperm Mobility: After incubation in vitro, St. Johnís wort appeared spermicidal. Saw Palmetto and echinacea some inhibitory effect. Gingko no observed anti-ox effects. Ondrinek, Loma Linda, J Assist Reprod Genet 2/99;16:87; Echinacea and St Johnís wort denatured sperm DNA. St Johnís, gingko and echinacea decreased oocyte penetration. St. Johnís wort mutagenic. Saw Palmetto no effect. Ondrinek, Loma Linda, Fertil Steril 3/99;71:517

Multiple Herb Studies

Many herbal concoctions contain 5 to 10 herbs all mixed together in a single remedy.  If such a remedy has a positive effect, no one knows which ingredient or ingredients is the actual herb having the positive effect.  For that matter, each herb has numerous chemical components and it is sometimes unclear which component or component is the active chemical.

Several Herbal Concoctions Found to Partially Inhibit Prostate Cancer Cell Graphs in Animals: Five different combinations of various natural herbs such as licorice, black cohosh, Dong Quai, false unicorn and vitex berry root extracts, fennel seed extract, red clover blossoms extract as well as genistein and gamma oryzanol, were tested for antitumor activity in severely combined immunodeficient mice bearing CWR22R and PC3 prostate cancer xenografts. Each concoction inhibited the cancer grafts by 53% to 87%. Antitumor activity of herbal supplements in human prostate cancer xenografts implanted in immunodeficient mice. Ng SS, Figg WD. Anticancer Res. 2003 Sep-Oct;23(5A):3585-90. 

Herbal Concoction Helps Dyspepsia: A German herbal preparation (Iberogast, STW-5*) containing extracts from bitter candy tuft, chamomile flower, peppermint leaves, caraway fruit, licorice root, lemon balm leaves, angelica root, celandine herbs, milk thistle fruit and its research preparation STW-5-S (without bitter candy tuft) was given to 60 patients with functional dyspepsia in a DB PC study with and without the bitter candy tuft component. Both preparations worked equally well although the full remedy worked significantly faster. A plant extract and its modified preparation in functional dyspepsia. Results of a double-blind placebo controlled comparative study. Madisch A, Melderis H, Mayr G, Sassin I, Hotz J. Z Gastroenterol. 2001 Jul;39(7):511-7

Unsafe Herbs: Many herbs have been identified as unsafe, including borage, calamus, coltsfoot, comfrey, life root, sassafras, chaparral, germander, licorice, and ma huang.  Am J Health Syst Pharm. 1999 Jan 15;56(2):125-38.  Of these, ma huang is the worst.