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Herbal medicine

What is herbal medicine?
Herbal medicine, also called botanical medicine or phytomedicine, refers to using a plant's
seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, or flowers for medicinal purposes. Herbalism has a long
tradition of use outside conventional medicine. It is becoming more mainstream as
improvements in analysis and quality control, along with advances in clinical research, show
the value of herbal medicine in treating and preventing disease.

What is the history of herbal medicine?
Plants have been used for medicinal purposes long before recorded history. Ancient Chinese
and Egyptian papyrus writings describe medicinal uses for plants as early as 3,000 BC.
Indigenous cultures (such as African and Native American) used herbs in their healing
rituals, while others developed traditional medical systems (such as Ayurveda and
Traditional Chinese Medicine) in which herbal therapies were used. Researchers found that
people in different parts of the world tended to use the same or similar plants for the same
In the early 19th century, when chemical analysis first became available, scientists began to
extract and modify the active ingredients from plants. Later, chemists began making their
own version of plant compounds and, over time, the use of herbal medicines declined in
favor of drugs. Almost one fourth of pharmaceutical drugs are derived from botanicals.
Recently, the World Health Organization estimated that 80% of people worldwide rely on
herbal medicines for some part of their primary health care. In Germany, about 600 to 700
plant based medicines are available and are prescribed by some 70% of German
physicians. In the past 20 years in the United States, public dissatisfaction with the cost of
prescription medications, combined with an interest in returning to natural or organic
remedies, has led to an increase in herbal medicine use.

How do herbs work?
In many cases, scientists are not sure what specific ingredient in a particular herb works to
treat a condition or illness. Whole herbs contain many ingredients, and they may work
together to produce a beneficial effect. Many factors determine how effective an herb will be.
For example, the type of environment (climate, bugs, and soil quality) in which a plant grew
will affect it, as will how and when it was harvested and processed.

How are herbs used?
The use of herbal supplements has increased dramatically over the past 30 years. Herbal
supplements are classified as dietary supplements by the U.S. Dietary Supplement Health
and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994. That means herbal supplements, unlike prescription
drugs, can be sold without being tested to prove they are safe and effective. However, herbal
supplements must be made according to good manufacturing practices.

and may worsen certain medical conditions. among others. Since herbal medicines can potentially interact with prescription medications. enhance wellbeing and contentment. asthma. For example. However. there is serious concern that kava may cause liver damage. the plant's habitat. but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a consumer advisory in March of 2002 regarding the "rare" but potential risk of liver failure associated with kava-containing products. Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is used by more than 2 million men in the United States for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). It is not clear whether the kava itself caused liver damage in a few people.The most commonly used herbal supplements in the U. Kava kava (Piper methysticum) is said to elevate mood. including the species and variety of the plant. or only at higher doses. such as herbal medicine. Laboratory studies have shown that ginkgo improves blood circulation by dilating blood vessels and reducing the stickiness of blood platelets.S. one study found that 90% of people with arthritic use alternative therapies. Some common herbs and their uses are discussed below. eczema. and cancer. and produce a feeling of relaxation. ginkgo may be especially effective in treating dementia (including Alzheimer disease) and intermittent claudication (poor circulation in the legs). Some countries have taken kava off the market. include:       Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea and related species) St. irritable bowel syndrome. People taking blood-thinning medications should ask their doctor before using ginkgo. chronic fatigue. Health care providers must take many factors into account when recommending herbs. premenstrual syndrome. this means ginkgo may also increase the effect of some blood-thinning medications.    Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) has been used in traditional medicine to treat circulatory disorders and enhance memory. rheumatoid arthritis. including aspirin. migraine. and whether or not there are contaminants (including heavy metals and pesticides). be sure to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any herbs. and related nervous disorders. It also shows promise for enhancing memory in older adults. menopausal symptoms. It is best to take herbal supplements under the guidance of a trained provider. Although not all studies agree. fibromyalgia. Speak with your physician. It remains available in the United States. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) Garlic (Allium sativum) Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) Ginseng (Panax ginseng or Asian ginseng) and Panax quinquefolius or American ginseng)  Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)  Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)  Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)  Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)  Ginger (Zingiber officinale)  Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)  Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) Practitioners often use herbs together because the combination is more effective. What is herbal medicine good for? Herbal medicine is used to treat many conditions. By the same token. It is also not clear whether kava is dangerous at previously recommended doses. insomnia. or whether it was taking kava in combination with other drugs or herbs. a noncancerous . such as allergies. People with a history of seizures and people with fertility issues should also use concern. Several studies show that kava may help treat anxiety. how it was stored and processed.

Unlike many prescription sleeping pills. A review of 14 clinical studies examining the effect of echinacea on the incidence and duration of the common cold found that echinacea supplements decreased the odds of getting a cold by 58%. and in some cases. Valerian does interact with some medications. and can potentially cause unwanted side effects.4 days. Because they are unregulated. and many other medications. herbs can help treat a variety of conditions. and some are toxic if used improperly or at high doses. fatigue. Some studies bear this out. In addition. particularly psychiatric medications. certain asthma drugs. may have fewer side effects than some conventional medications. so you should speak to your doctor to see if Valerian is right for you. Buying standardized herbal supplements helps ensure you will get the right dose and the effects similar to human clinical trials. However. but studies are mixed as to whether it can help prevent or treat colds. and needing to urinate during the night. John's wort can cause your skin to be more sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet rays. most studies have shown that St. so it is important to take it only under the guidance of a health care provider.  St. Speak with your physician. But not all studies agree. In general. The FDA has issued a public health advisory concerning many of these interactions. such as morning drowsiness. although not all have found valerian to be effective. Some examples of adverse reactions from certain popular herbs are described below. Echinacea can interact with certain medications and may not be right for people with certain conditions." they are safe. having trouble starting or maintaining urination. At least one well-conducted study found that saw palmetto was no better than placebo in relieving the signs and symptoms of BPH. John's wort may be an effective treatment for mild-to-moderate depression. Clinical studies have found that St.  St. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about which herbal supplements are best for your health concerns. Echinacea is one of the most commonly used herbal products. . Some herbs may be inappropriate for people with certain medical conditions. Taking herbs on your own increases your risk. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is well known for its antidepressant effects.  Echinacea preparations (from Echinacea purpurea and other Echinacea species) may improve the body's natural immunity. valerian may have fewer side effects. But the herb interacts with a wide variety of medications. for example people with autoimmune disorders or certain allergies. including the blood thinner warfarin (Couamdin).enlargement of the prostate gland. so it is important to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking herbal medicines.  Kava kava has been linked to liver toxicity. including frequent urination. It also shortened the duration of a cold by 1. protease inhibitors for HIV. and restlessness. John's wort also interferes with the effectiveness of many drugs. stomach upset. Kava has been taken off the market in several countries because of liver toxicity. herbal products are often mislabeled and may contain additives and contaminants that are not listed on the label. Is there anything I should watch out for? Used correctly. Some herbs may cause allergic reactions or interact with conventional drugs. Several studies suggest that the herb is effective for treating symptoms. and has fewer side effects than most other prescription antidepressants. including birth control pills. and may cause an allergic reaction. Never assume that because herbs are "natural.  Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a popular alternative to commonly prescribed medications for sleep problems because it is considered to be both safe and gentle. St. birth control pills. John's wort should not be taken with prescribed antidepressant medication.

 Garlic. Are there experts in herbal medicine? Herbalists. chiropractors. Tinctures are typically a 1:5 or 1:10 concentration. How is herbal medicine sold in stores? The herbs available in most stores come in several different forms: teas. or lozenge. and cadmium. a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that nearly 70% of people taking herbal medicines (most of whom were well educated and had a higher-than-average income) were reluctant tell their doctors that they used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Syrups. Some herbal preparations are standardized. Naturopathic physicians believe that the body is continually striving for balance and that natural therapies can support this process. Oils are extracted from plants and often used as rubs for massage. syrups. and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine all may use herbs to treat illness. mercury. alcohol. including lead. among other herbs. capsule. A dry extract form is the most concentrated form of an herbal product (typically 2:1 to 8:1) and is sold as a tablet. Who is using herbal medicine? Nearly one-third of Americans use herbs. pharmacists. pharmacology. especially those imported from Asian countries. or glycerol). It is important to talk to your doctor or an expert in herbal medicine about the recommended doses of any herbal products. or by boiling herbs in water and then straining the liquid. ginkgo.  Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) may increase the risk of seizures in people who have seizure disorders and bleeding in people with bleeding disorders or who take blood-thinning medications. They are trained in 4-year. there is a high degree of herb/drug interaction among patients who are under treatment for cancer. made from concentrated extracts and added to sweet-tasting preparations. medical doctors. Valerian may cause sleepiness. either by themselves or as part of an ointment or cream. No organization or agency regulates the manufacture or certifies the labeling of herbal preparations. and dry extracts (pills or capsules). This means you cannot be sure that the amount of the herb contained in the bottle. postgraduate institutions that combine courses in conventional medical science (such as pathology. oils. and in some people it may even have the unexpected effect of overstimulating instead of sedating. Be sure to consult your doctor before trying any herbal products. microbiology. meaning that the preparation is guaranteed to contain a specific amount of the active ingredients of the herb. tinctures. may increase the risk of bleeding. However. or even from dose to dose. such as warfarin (Coumadin). is the same as what is stated on the label. For example. It is important to purchase herbal supplements from reputable manufacturers to ensure quality. . naturopathic physicians. liquid extracts. are often used for sore throats and coughs. Liquid extracts are more concentrated than tinctures and are typically a 1:1 concentration. feverfew. and ginger. may contain high levels of heavy metals. Tinctures and liquid extracts are made of active herbal ingredients dissolved in a liquid (usually water. Some herbal supplements. meaning that one part of the herb is prepared with 5 to 10 parts (by weight) of the liquid. You can make teas from dried herbs left to soak for a few minutes in hot water. Many herbs can interact with prescription medications and cause unwanted or dangerous reactions. Unfortunately. it is still important to ask companies making standardized herbal products about their product's guarantee.

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