Herbal Remedies: Are They Safe?

 In Health, Intentions
Saskatoon Berries. The Great Gathering

Herbal therapy is more popular — and accessible — than ever before. However, as with any course of treatment, there are benefits and drawbacks to be considered before changing your current health regimen. Some of these considerations are outlined below.

1. What is Herbal Therapy?
Some form of herbal therapy has been used historically in nearly every culture going back to the beginning of recorded history. Ancient Chinese, Indians, Egyptians and Native Americans all had their systems of herbal medicine to help heal the ailments that have historically plagued humanity. This type of therapy uses herbs to help balance the body and treat the underlying causes of illness instead of just the signs and symptoms. Herbal medications can taken in the form of pills, tinctures, oils, infusions or creams and are generally topical or oral.

2. What Are the Benefits of Herbal Therapy?
Herbal therapy is generally used as part of naturopathy, a system for wellness that promotes healing not only through the use of herbs, but also exercise, a healthy lifestyle and sometimes other treatments like acupuncture or massage therapy. Because of this holistic approach, and because it focuses in on the causes of disease rather than the resulting signs and symptoms, it can be helpful for managing chronic health issues. Examples of common herbs used in this therapy are listed below.

  • Saw palmetto: used to help treat men with BPH (prostate gland enlargement)
  • Ginger: used to treat mild and to moderate nausea
  • Chamomile: used to help reduce anxiety and promote restful sleep
  • St. John’s Wort: used to treat mild to moderate depression
  • Garlic: used to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure to promote cardiac health

These are just a few of the hundreds of plants that are used in herbal medicine to help people manage chronic conditions and achieve optimum health.

3. What are the Risks of Herbal Therapy and How Can I Reduce Those Risks?
There are risks involved with herbal therapy that you should consider before making it a part of your daily regiment. Firstly, herbal therapies can never entirely take the place of traditional Western medicine: willow bark tea, for instance, will not help you much if you have just broken your arm! Secondly, there have been very few trials on many herbals therapies: these trials are expensive and time-consuming, but this means that claims are not always backed up with science in the way that much of traditional Western medicine is and these supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

How to mitigate those risks? Most importantly, always tell your primary care physician before you stop taking any current medications or add herbal supplements to your regimen. Not only will this keep your doctor informed, it will give him or her the opportunity to warn you about any possible interactions between the herbs and the drugs you are taking. Secondly, it is also a good idea, instead of just walking into a health food store or your local grocery and buying something off the shelves, to consult with a naturopath, herbalist or similar professional. They can perform an assessment and assist you with making good choices that will help to optimize your health. To find reliable information on individual herbs, the best place to consult is the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institute of Health, for information you can trust.

Herbal Health Services, University of New Hampshire
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Mayo Clinic

by The Great Gathering
Copyright The Great Gathering 2014©

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