Supplements Herbal Remedies

Herbal remedies are probably mankind’s oldest medicine. The history of herbal healing stretches back at least 5,000 years in Western culture. The history of herbal healing worldwide is likely far older: All cultures possess herbal remedies based on the herbs and plants in their geographic area.

While herbal healing and herbal supplements are now considered alternative medicine, they were considered standard practice for most of medical history.

Herbal Healing in North America

Herbal remedies enjoyed a long history in North America, but were replaced by pharmaceuticals in both the United States and Canada over the last century. In recent years, public interest in herbal healing has renewed, with more people exploring herbs and supplements as alternatives to conventional medicine.

A number of reasons account for the revival of herbal remedies in North America. An interest in natural healing has blossomed in recent years in response to the side effects of many pharmaceuticals. Herbal supplements generally have fewer side effects and less toxicity than pharmaceuticals.

Furthermore, many herbs, unlike most conventional medicines, can be taken as preventive medicine, guarding against illness rather then treating the illness. There is also the unavoidable fact that herbal remedies cost less than most pharmaceuticals.

Back in Germany…

In Germany-where herbal supplement quality and control is as vigorous as pharmaceutical medications-doctors commonly prescribe herbal healing and herbal supplements.

Who Shouldn’t Use Herbal Remedies?

Herbal supplements are not advised for children, as herbal dosages and safety vary with age. Pregnant women should also avoid herbal remedies, as some herbs can have adverse effects on fetal development. Even breastfeeding mothers should avoid using herbal remedies until their baby is weaned.

If you live with any of the following conditions, please consult with a medical professional before using any herbal remedies or supplements:

  • blood coagulation disorders
  • diabetes
  • enlarged prostate
  • epilepsy
  • glaucoma
  • heart disease
  • hypertension
  • liver disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • psychiatric conditions
  • stroke
  • thyroid conditions.

At least one week before any surgery, including dental surgery, stop all herbal supplements. Certain herbs can interfere with anesthesia and blood coagulation.

Herbal Healing and Remedies for Common Complaints

Herbal remedies are available for a long list of health conditions. In some cases, the claims of herbal remedies have been proven by medical science. Other herbs’ healing properties have not been scientifically validated, but are supported by a history of anecdotal evidence and tradition. Remember: Like any other healing therapy, no herb is completely safe. If you have any doubts, consult a medical professional or professional herbalist.

Health Condition

Herbal Remedies

Effect

Acne

  • Flaxseed oil
  • Evening primrose oil

Essential fatty acids in flaxseed oil and evening primrose oil thin the sebum that causes acne.

Bad breath

  • Peppermint
  • Parsley

Peppermint tea or several drops of peppermint oil on the tongue freshens breath, as does chewing a sprig of parsley.

Colds

  • Echinacea
  • Goldenseal

Echinacea and goldenseal boost the immune system and reduce cold symptoms. Goldenseal tea also relieves sore throats.

Fatigue

  • Panax ginseng
  • Dong quoi
  • Flaxseed oil

Dong quoi and ginseng are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fatigue.

Flaxseed oil is high in fatty amino acids, which the body requires for proper functioning.

Flatulence

  • Ginger

Ginger relaxes the digestive tract, lowering the chance of flatulence.

Insomnia

  • Chamomile
  • Valerian

Chamomile and valerian both possess sedating and muscle-relaxing properties.

Nausea

  • Peppermint oil
  • Ginger

Peppermint tea has a soothing effect on the stomach’s mucus lining.

Ginger relieves nausea without the drowsiness of anti-nausea medications.

Safety of Herbal Remedies

Herbal remedies are generally gentler on the body than pharmaceuticals, but some cautions must be taken when using herbs and other botanicals. “Natural” should not be confused with “safe.” Many of today’s more potent pharmaceuticals were derived from herbs or herbal remedies. Aspirin, for example, was developed from compounds in willow bark.

Self-diagnosing and self-medicating with herbs is not advisable if a health condition is serious or fast-acting. A rapidly developing bacterial infection such as pneumonia, for instance, responds to treatment much faster with standard antibiotics than with herbal remedies. Herbal healing takes time to affect health and some health complications require much faster treatment.

Herbs and herbal supplements can cause unwanted side effects, especially when supplements are taken in large amounts. Examples include:

  • St John’s Wort: Can cause dizziness, confusion, tiredness, upset stomach, tiredness, dry mouth and photosensitivity.
  • Ephedra (Ma Huang): Known to cause hypertension, irregular heartbeat, insomnia, headaches, strokes and heart attacks.
  • Kava: May cause tiredness, skin rashes, unusual mouth or tongue movement, and liver problems.
  • Turmeric: May cause indigestion and other stomach problems (instead of supplements try incorporating natural turmeric-curry-into your cooking).
  • Ginseng: High doses can result in insomnia, headaches, skin rashes, upset stomach, breast tenderness, anxiety, and increased menstrual bleeding.

While some of the side effects listed above are severe, it should be noted that many conventional medications have possible side effects just as severe as those associated with some herbs. If in doubt as to the safety of an herb, consult either your doctor or a professional herbalist.

Herbs and Drug Interactions

Certain herbs and herbal supplements can cause adverse reactions when mixed with pharmaceuticals. Ginkgo biloba, for instance, interferes with aspirin’s anticoagulant properties, and should not be taken with any anticoagulant medication. St. John’s Wort, while often used to treat mild depression, should not be taken with prescription antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication. Treat all herbs with respect, and be sure to let your doctor know which herbal supplements you plan on using, especially if you already take medication.

Herb and Supplement Manufacturers

The quality of herbal supplements varies from one manufacturer to another in America. Since the Food and Drug Administration does not consider herbal remedies and supplements as medicinal products, there are no firm quality standards for herbal supplements. A professional herbalist should be able to recommend good quality supplement brands. Don’t assume that the staff of a health food store will be able to answer your questions about herbs, supplements, and herbal healing-often, the staff has only a rudimentary knowledge of herbal remedies.