Medicinal Herbs – Is Doing the Herbal Really Safe?
Herbalism is also known as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbal medicine, herbology, herblore, and phytotherapy. It refers to using a plant’s seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark or flowers for medicinal purposes. With the growing interest in health and wellness, alternative medicines are becoming increasingly popular worldwide. Also, with the increasing prices of prescription medicine, herbal medicines are often cheaper than their conventional medicine counterparts.
In addition, a growing body of scientific research shows that herbal medicines can be highly effective for certain diseases and conditions. Moreover, as research in this area increases, the optimum doses for herbal medicines are known to ever greater accuracy.
Under the U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), herbal medicines are classified as dietary supplements rather than as medications. This means they can be sold without being tested to prove they are safe and effective. Moreover, some can interact with other drugs you are taking. For that reason, it is vitally important for you to inform your physicians if you are taking herbal medicines.
Origins of Medicinal herbs
Herbal medicines have been around since prehistoric times. They have been used for medicinal purposes for as long as recorded history. People from many cultures around the world use herbal medicines. They were used in Ancient Chinese, Greek, Egyptian, and Indian (Ayurvedic) medicine. Native American and African cultures use herbs in their healing rituals.
Active reagent of medicinal herbs
While conventional medicine isolates just one active ingredient, in herbal medicines, there may be multiple ones. Unlike prescription medications, herbs tend to have several different active reagents. And often, naturopathic doctors or herbalists may recommend them together because the combination is more effective or because several herbs taken together has fewer side effects. If you are going to take herbal medicines for any medical condition, it’s best to contact an established naturopath or herbalist. The American Herbalist Guide (AHG), www.americanherbalistsguide.com or the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (www.naturopathic.org) will be able to make a recommendation for your area.
Using medicinal herbs can sometimes be better than using medical drugs. Here are some reasons why medicinal herbs are better.
- They cost less – the rising cost of prescription drugs have led the people to look for alternatives. While medicinal herbs may not be as strong or as fast acting as conventional medicine, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that shows their efficacy and in what doses.
- They may have fewer side effects: while the side effects of any herbal medication depend on the drug in question, many have fewer side effects than conventional medicine. For example, St. John’s Wort, which is used for mild to moderate depression, has fewer side effects than most other prescriptive antidepressants.
- There is a choice on how to use them – medicinal herbs can be used in a variety of ways, depending on the kind of herb that is to be used. Some herbs can be mixed with food. Some can be made into tea, and there are some that are available in capsule or tablet form.
- They are good for more than one condition – most prescriptive drugs are designed for one specific health problem. By contrast, many herbal medicine act on several parts of the body at once. For example Ginko (Ginko biloba) is good for circulatory disorders, but it also helps enhance memory.
- Cardiovascular diseases- there are a variety of medicinal herbs that can address cardiovascular problems. Medicinal herbs like garlic are said to be beneficial for many health problems like lowering the blood pressure and cholesterol to prevent cardiovascular problems. Kelp is a known reducer of heart problems, and alfalfa can be used to prevent and treat cardiovascular problems like heart disease and stroke.
- Digestive problems – there are also many medicinal herbs that can be used to treat and prevent problems with digestion like ulcers, diarrhea, constipation, and others. Some medicinal herbs that can be used for problems in the digestive system include caraway, chicory, clove, ginger, red pepper, rosemary, and others.
- Respiratory Problems – there are different varieties of medicinal herbs that can be used for respiratory problems like asthma, bronchitis, and others. Some medicinal herbs that can be used for respiratory problems like ginkgo can help people with asthma. Horehound is known for being an expectorant and is used to treat coughs. Dandelion can be used by people with bronchitis. Eucalyptus is popularly known to be good for loosening the phlegm and making it easier to breathe. Thyme can be used as a cough remedy, and there are more medicinal herbs that can be used for different respiratory problems.
- Skin problems – some medicinal herbs can be made into creams and salves, which can be used to treat many skin problems like psoriasis, acne, burns, rashes, and others. Some medicinal herbs that can help with skin conditions are allspice, aloe, basil, mint, and turmeric.
- Cancers – there some medicinal herbs that can help in preventing and slowing down the growth of certain cancer cells in the body. Dandelion and garlic are an example of herbs that can help in preventing cancer. Fennel and anise are said to be good at fighting the development of prostate cancer. It is said that ginseng can help patients who are undergoing radiation therapy for cancer.
While medical herbs are generally good for the body because they can be used for many health conditions, there are some side effects that are associated with using them.
- Allergic reactions – Like any drug, herbal medications affect the body and so can cause an allergic reaction. And some herbs may cause allergic reactions when taken together with conventional drugs. Some may be toxic if used improperly or at high doses.
- Not regulated – unlike medical drugs, medicinal herbs are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Instead, they are considered dietary supplements under the U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). Although their dietary supplement status means that they can be sold without being tested to prove they are safe and effective, there are a growing number of studies that look at the safety and efficacy of herbal medicines. Consult an established naturopath or herbalist for information and guidance.
- Can Interact with drugs – the effects of medicinal herbs can interact with medical drugs. It may heighten the effect of the conventional medicine, negate it or even cause it to become dangerous. It’s important to tell your doctor that you are using herbal or naturopathic medicines, especially if you are taking any prescriptions.
- It can make other health conditions worse or cause other unwanted conditions – there are some medicinal herbs that can make other health conditions worse, like Tarragon, which should not be used by people who have had any form of cancer. Mistletoe should never be used by pregnant women because it may cause a miscarriage.
Medicinal herbs can be a good alternative for many diseases and conditions. They are low cost, and tend to have fewer side effects. Moreover, they can be bought in health food shops, pharmacies and on-line without the need for a prescription. However, herbal medicines can still have unwanted health effects, especially when used in combination with other drugs. If you are using more than one herbal medicine, or using them for a serious condition, it’s best to consult with a naturopath or established herbalist. It’s also important to tell your physician that you are using an alternative medicine to prevent drug interaction.