Medical Herbs - Good cooks love herbs for the variety of flavors they impart
to food. An increasing number of Americans, however, are
discovering herbs may also enhance their well-being. As the
use of complementary or alternative medicine grows,
healthcare practitioners and consumers alike are demanding
better and more objective information about the herbal
preparations currently sold in in the United States.
Here's a look at four commonly used herbs and the kind of
information about them that should be available to all
- Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) contains gamma
linoleic acid (GLA), an omega 6 fatty acid the body uses
in a variety of biochemical reactions. It appears the
bodyís ability to make GLA decreases with age.
Individuals with specific medical conditions such as
asthma, diabetes and eczema may have an increased risk for
GLA deficiency. It's thus argued evening primrose oil may
alleviate the symptoms of people with these conditions.
Unfortunately, many of the claims made are not currently
supported by scientific evidence, even the use of evening
primrose oil by people with eczema or other skin conditions
It's also widely advertised as a treatment for the
symptoms associated with menopause - despite the fact that
research indicates it's not very good at treating hot
flushing or sweating.
On a positive note, essential fatty acids such as those
found in evening primrose oil may be good for promoting
Overall, evening primrose oil appears very safe, but it's
recommended patients diagnosed with mania or epilepsy use it
with caution. Although there are no reports of drug
interactions with the herb, people taking beta-blockers,
lithium carbonate or anticoagulants should talk to their
doctor or pharmacist before taking it.
- Garlic (Allium sativum) has been used medicinally
for centuries. Today, it's best known for its
cardiovascular effects. There's scientific evidence garlic
may help lower cholesterol levels, but claims that it can
lower blood pressure are not supported by research to
date. Studies of the diets of several large groups of
people suggest increased ingestion of garlic may be
associated with a decreased incidence of some types of
cancer (especially stomach and colon cancer).
But it's not all good news. Stomach upset and heartburn
have been described following high doses of garlic (the
equivalent of five or more cloves daily). Garlic may also be
associated with bleeding problems in rare cases. It's
recommended that all garlic supplements be discontinued at
least one week before any elective surgical procedures and
that you inform your physician if you're taking garlic.
Thereís a wide variety of garlic products on the U.S. market. A dose equivalent to one to eight cloves
(400-1200 mg of garlic powder) taken daily in divided doses
appears to be effective. Questions about different dosage
forms of garlic should be directed to your pharmacist.
The Ginkgo Biloba tree is the oldest known tree
species on earth, which has led some to conclude that
taking ginkgo products will increase one's life span.
Unfortunately there's no scientific evidence to support
Ginkgo has been extensively studied and found to cause a
slight, but noticeable, improvement in the memory of
patients with Alzheimer disease and other types of dementia.
Currently there's no evidence that ginkgo will improve the
memory of people who do not have any memory problems to
A typical dose is 40 mg of ginkgo extract (standardized
to 24 per cent ginkgo-flavone glycosides) taken three times
daily. Ginkgo may also help to improve the symptoms of
people with a variety of circulatory disorders such as
intermittent claudication (partial obstruction of blood flow
to the legs). Research is continuing in this area.
The most common side effect of ginkgo is a headache,
which can occur if you take too large a dose too quickly.
There's also some evidence that in rare cases, ginkgo can
cause bleeding problems. Anyone taking anticoagulant drugs
should check with their physician or pharmacist before
- Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is best known
for its use as a treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia
(BPH). This is good scientific evidence that 160 mg. of
liposterlic extract taken twice daily can decrease the
size of the prostate and improve urinary flow rate.
Saw palmetto has been shown to be as effective as some
conventional treatments for BPH. However, itís important
this treatment option be discussed with your physician and
that you continue to be monitored by a physician during your
treatment with saw palmetto.
There are several important things to remember about
- They are medicines and you should let your pharmacist
and physicians know if you are taking any herbs;
- There are a lot of claims made about herbs which are
not supported by scientific evidence;
- Some herbs can be very helpful if used appropriately.