Herbs are the most popular form of alternative medicine in the United States , according to a recent Harvard study which found that 38 million Americans collectively spend $4.2 billion on herbal medicine every year.
Understanding more about how medicinal herbs work can help you treat common ailments more effectively.
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HERBS FOR WELLNESS
Some herbs are beneficial to almost everyone when taken regularly. They include the following:
1. GARLIC FOR CHOLESTEROL CONTROL AND CANCER PREVENTION. The majority of garlic studies show that it reduces cholesterol and helps prevent heart disease. Garlic also helps prevent several types of cancer and helps prevent prostate, esophageal, stomach and bladder cancer.
Dosage: Most studies have used approximately the equivalent of one clove a day. Garlic works best when it’s raw or only slightly cooked, and may also be taken in supplements.
Cautions: Garlic impairs blood clotting. If you notice increased bruising, stop taking it and consult a doctor. Stop taking medicinal doses of garlic two weeks before any planned surgery.
2. GINKGO FOR MENTAL SHARPNESS. Ginkgo increases blood circulation through the brain, and it is best known for its potential to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Ginkgo also enhances memory in healthy adults of all ages, according to several studies.
Dosage: Use commercial preparations, which concentrate Ginkgo’s compounds. Look for standardized extracts that contain 24 percent flavonoid glycosides, and take 120 milligrams daily.
Cautions: Ginkgo has an anticoagulant effect, so stop taking it at least two weeks before any surgery or if you notice bruising.
HERBS TO TREAT COMMON COMPLAINTS
Although herbal medicine is not the answer for every ailment, herbs can be used effectively to treat many health conditions, including those below.
3. CRANBERRY FOR URINARY TRACT INFECTION. Cranberry juice – and the dried berries and extract – protect against infection by preventing bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.
Dosage: If you use cranberry juice cocktail, drink at least three cups a day. If you use dried cranberries, munch on a handful or two a day. For commercial cranberry extract, follow the label directions.
4. ECHINACEA FOR COLDS. The root and sometimes the aboveground portions of this daisylike flower have been shown to bolster the immune system and help the body fight colds. Some studies have shown no treatment benefit, but most show that echinacea minimizes cold symptoms and speeds recovery.
Dosage: Take the dosage recommended on the product label. Typical directions are to take it several times a day at first, and then taper off as you begin to feel better.
Cautions: A mildly upset stomach is possible with the tincture. Echinacea is safe for most people, but because it stimulates the immune system, it is not recommended for those with auto-immune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and several others), or for transplanted- organ recipients.
5. GINGER FOR MOTION SICKNESS AND MORNING SICKNESS. Studies show that pregnant women who take ginger have significantly less nausea associated with morning sickness. Several studies show that the herb also wards off motion sickness. To keep motion sickness at bay, take a capsule containing 1,000 milligrams of powdered ginger root about an hour before you embark, and every two hours during your journey.
Dosage: Start with 1,000 milligrams. If that doesn’t provide sufficient relief, try 1,500 milligrams.
Cautions: Some people report heartburn after taking ginger capsules.
6. MILK THISTLE FOR LIVER DISEASE. Mainstream medicine doesn’t have any miracle drugs for liver disease (hepatitis, cirrhosis), but milk thistle seeds can help. They contain three compounds, known collectively as silymarin, that have a remarkable ability to protect and heal the liver. Italian researchers have shown that milk thistle speeds recovery from hepatitis. Several studies have shown that the herb helps treat alcoholic cirrhosis. Milk thistle also helps prevent liver damage from powerful drugs.
Dosage: A typical recommended dosage is 140 milligrams of silymarin three times a day.
Cautions: Side effects are rare, but can include headache, stomach distress, nausea, hives, itching and joint pain.
7. ST. JOHN ‘S WORT FOR DEPRESSION. While some studies suggest otherwise, the majority show that St. John’s wort, in capsules or tablets, works as well as Prozac and Zoloft for relieving mild to moderate depression, and causes fewer side effects.
Dosage: Follow label directions. Studies showing benefits have used 600 to 1,800 milligrams/day. Most studies have used 900 milligrams/day.
Cautions: St. John’s wort can cause an upset stomach, increases sensitivity to sunlight and reduces the effectiveness of birth control pills. If you take medication regularly, it’s important to consult your physician or pharmacist before using St. John’s wort.
Dosage: Follow label directions.
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About the author
For more information about medicinal herbs, including free access to extensive reference information from the American Botanical Council, go to HerbsForHealth.com,.
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