Herbs Disease

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The use of herbal medicine has been faced with a huge welcome by patients and scientists, as well as drug industries. It seems that reducing the time of research, economizing investments with better safety, and conducting high-quality botanical research are essential and indispensable. This study aimed to introduce the first reciprocal herb-disease encyclopedia and to recount some of the salient points of herbal research based on Iranian studies. A search limited to Iran was conducted using 36 search terms in the data banks PubMed, Scopes, Science Direct, Wiley, and Sprinkling up to the end of 2012. Data including the investigated disease(s) and common and scientific names of the investigated herbs were extracted from the titles and abstracts of 1310 articles. Investigated subjects and diseases have been categorized in 18 groups: cancer, cardiovascular, cellular-molecular, embryology, endocrinology, genito-urology, gastrointestinal, gynecology, immunology, infectious, metabolism, mucocutaneous, musculoskeletal, neuroscience, ophthalmology, renal, reproductive, and respiratory topics. Herbs including Crocus sativus L., Allium sativum L., and Zataria multi flora Boise from totally 560 studied herbs were the most studied ones. Only 69 of 560 studied (12.5%) herbs were endemic to Iran. Due to the vast majority of information available for herbs and diseases, an herb-disease encyclopedia comes to the help of herbal researchers and enthusiasts to find that which herb is useful or recommended for which kind(s) of health problems, and/or for the management, pretreatment or treatment of a specific disease or disorders.

A Guide to Common Medicinal Herbs

Here’s a look at some of the more common medicinal herbs. Most herbs have not been completely tested to see how well they work or to see if they interact with other herbs, supplements, medicines, or foods. Products added to herbal preparations may also cause interactions. Be aware that “natural” does not mean “safe.” It’s important to tell your healthcare providers about any herb or dietary supplement you are using.

Chamomile

Considered by some to be a cure-all, chamomile is commonly used in the U.S. as analyticalally and sedative for anxiety and relaxation. It is used in Europe for wound healing and to reduce inflammation or swelling. Few studies have looked at how well it works for any condition. Chamomile is used as a tea or applied as a compress. It is considered safe by the FDA. It may increase drowsiness caused by medicines or other herbs or supplements. Chamomile may interfere with the way the body uses some medicines, causing too high a level of the medicine in some people. As with any medicinal herb, talk with your healthcare provider before taking it.

Echinacea

Echinacea is commonly used to treat or prevent colds, flu, and infections, and for wound healing. More than 25 published studies looked at how well Echinacea worked to prevent or shorten the course of a cold, but none were conclusive. A 2014 study compared Echinacea with a placebo for treating colds. Results found that Echinacea did not have any effect on a cold. Other studies have also shown that long-term use can affect the body’s immune system. It should not be used with medicines that can cause liver problems. People allergic to plants in the daisy family may be more likely to have an allergic reaction to Echinacea. The daisy family includes ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies.

Fever-few

Fever few was traditionally used to treat fevers. It is now commonly used to prevent migraines and treat arthritis. Some research has shown that certain fever few preparations can prevent migraines. Side effects include mouth ulcers and digestive irritation. People who suddenly stop taking fever few for migraines may have their headaches return. Fever few should not be used with non steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines because these medicines may change how well fever few works. It should not be used with warfarin or other anticoagulant medicines.

Garlic

Garlic is used for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. It has antimicrobial effects. Reports from small, short-term, and poorly described studies show that it may cause small reductions in total and LDL cholesterol. But German research results on garlic’s cholesterol-lowering effect have been distorted for a positive effect, the FDA says. Researchers are currently exploring garlic’s possible role in preventing cancer. The FDA considers garlic safe. It should not be used with warfarin, because large amounts of garlic may affect clotting. For the same reason, large amounts should not be taken before dental procedures or surgery.

Ginger

Ginger is used to ease nausea and motion sickness. Research suggests that ginger can relieve nausea caused by pregnancy or chemotherapy. Other areas under investigation are in surgery and for nausea caused by motion. Reported side effects include bloating, gas, heartburn, and nausea.

Gingko

Ginkgo leaf extract has been used to treat a variety of conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, fatigue, and tinnitus. It is also used to improve memory and to prevent dementia and other brain disorders. Some studies have supported its slight effectiveness. But exactly how gingko works isn’t understood. Only extract from leaves should be used. Seeds contain ginkgo toxin. This toxin can cause seizures and, in large amounts, death. Because some information suggests that ginkgo can increase the risk of bleeding, it should not be used with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, anticoagulants, anticonvulsant medicines, or tricycle antidepressants.

Ginseng

Ginseng is used as a tonic and aphrodisiac, even as a cure-all. Research is uncertain how well it works, partly because of the difficulty in defining “vitality” and “quality of life.” There is a large variation in the quality of ginseng sold. Side effects are high blood pressure and tachycardia. It’s considered safe by the FDA, but shouldn’t be used with warfarin, heparin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, estrogens, corticosteroids, or digoxin. People with diabetes should not use ginseng.

Golden-seal

Golden-seal is used to treat diarrhea, and eye and skin irritations. It is also used as an antiseptic. It is also an unproven treatment for colds. Golden-seal contains berberine, a plant alkaloid with a long history of medicinal use in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Studies have shown that golden-seal is effective for diarrhea. But it’s not recommended because it can be poisonous in high doses. It can cause skin, mouth, throat, and gastric irritation. It is also not recommended because of the plant’s endangered species status.

Milk thistle

Milk thistle is used to treat liver conditions and high cholesterol, and to reduce the growth of cancer cells. Milk thistle is a plant that originated in the Mediterranean region. It has been used for many different illnesses over the last several thousand years, especially liver problems. Although study results are uncertain, some promising information exists.

Saint John’s wort

Saint John’s wort is used as an antidepressant. Recent studies have not confirmed that there is more than a slight effect on depression. More research is needed to determine the best dose. A side effect is sensitivity to light, but this is only noted in people taking large doses of the herb. St. John’s work can cause a dangerous interaction with other commonly used medicines. Always talk with your healthcare provider before using this herb.

Saw palmetto

Saw palmetto is used to treat benign pro-static hypertrophy (BPH). But recent studies have not found it to work well for this condition. Side effects are digestive upset and headache, both mild.

Valerian

Valerian is used to treat sleeplessness and to reduce anxiety. Research suggests that valerian may be a helpful sleep aid, but there are no well-designed studies to confirm the results. In the U.S., valerian is used as a flavoring for root beer and other foods. As with any medicinal herb, talk with your healthcare provider before taking it.

Herbal medicine has its origins in ancient cultures. It involves the medicinal use of plants to treat disease and enhance general health and well-being.

Some herbs have potent (powerful) ingredients and should be taken with the same level of caution as pharmaceutical medications. In fact, many pharmaceutical medications are based on man-made versions of naturally occurring compounds found in plants. For instance, the heart medicine digitalis was derived from the foxglove plant. 

Active ingredients and herbal medicine

Herbal medicines contain active ingredients. The active ingredients of many herbal preparations are as yet unknown. Some pharmaceutical medications are based on a single active ingredient derived from a plant source. Practitioners of herbal medicine believe that an active ingredient can lose its impact or become less safe if used in isolation from the rest of the plant. 

For instance, salicylic acid is found in the plant meadow sweet and is used to make aspirin. Aspirin can cause the lining of the stomach to bleed, but meadow sweet naturally contains other compounds that prevent irritation from salicylic acid. 

According to herbal medicine practitioners, the effect of the whole plant is greater than its parts. Critics argue that the nature of herbal medicine makes it difficult to give a measured dose of an active ingredient.Back to top

Medicinal uses for specific herbs

Herbal medicine aims to return the body to a state of natural balance so that it can heal itself. Different herbs act on different systems of the body. Some herbs that are commonly used in herbal medicine, and their traditional uses, include: 

  • echinacea – to stimulate the immune system and aid the body in fighting infection. Used to treat ailments such as boils, fever and herpes
  • dong quai (dang gui) – used for gynecological complaints such as premenstrual tension, menopause symptoms and period pain. Some studies indicate that dong quai can lower blood pressure
  • garlic – used to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of blood fats and cholesterol (a type of blood fat). The antibiotic and antiviral properties of garlic mean that it is also used to fight colds, sinusitis and other respiratory infections
  • ginger – many studies have shown ginger to be useful in treating nausea, including motion sickness and morning sickness
  • ginkgo biloba – commonly used to treat poor blood circulation and tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • ginseng – generally used to treat fatigue, for example during recovery from illness. Also used to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, however overuse of ginseng has been associated with raised blood pressure
  • hypericum – commonly known as St John’s wort. Studies have suggested that St John’s wort is just as effective as some pharmaceutical antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression. It is also used for anxiety and insomnia. However, St John’s wort can interact with a number of prescription medications, including the oral contraceptive pill, and stop them from working properly. 

Do not self-diagnose ailments

It is very important that people do not self-diagnose any health conditions. Any medication (herbal or otherwise) should be taken under the supervision of a knowledgeable and qualified practitioner. 
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Special considerations for herbal medicine

Herbal medicines can be mistakenly thought to be completely safe because they are natural products. This is not correct. 

Herbal medicines may produce negative effects such as allergic reactions, rashes, asthma, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea that can range from mild to severe. Like other prescription medications, herbal medicine should always be prescribed by a qualified and registered practitioner.  

  • which over-the-counter, herbal supplements, vitamins and prescription medications you are taking
  • any allergic reactions you have experienced
  • if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

Be aware herbal medicine can interact with other medications

Herbal medications and supplements may interact in harmful ways with over-the-counter or prescription medicines you are taking.  

Taking herbal supplements may decrease the effectiveness of other drugs you are taking or may increase the negative side effects.  
If you are considering taking herbal medications it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor about possible side effects and interaction with other medications you are taking.

Purchase herbal medicine products from a reputable supplier 

Not all herbal medicines that are sold are safe. Always purchase products from a reputable practitioner or pharmacist.

Be careful about purchasing herbal medicines over the internet. Unregulated herbal medicines from overseas may not be manufactured to the same quality and standard as regulated medicines. In some cases, products bought over the internet have been found to have dangerous levels of lead, mercury or arsenic, which can cause serious health problems.

Herbal medicines made in Australia are subject to regulations. Consult with your pharmacist about the safety and effectiveness of the herbal medicine or supplements you are thinking of buying. If you are considering taking herbal medicine, it is recommended that you:

  • Never stop taking prescribed medications without consulting your doctor. 
  • Always tell your doctor if you are planning to start a course of herbal medicine for your condition.
  • Seek advice from your qualified health practitioner, your doctor or your pharmacist about the herbal medicine’s safety, quality and effectiveness.
  • Always purchase products from a reputable practitioner or pharmacist. Be cautious about buying herbal medicines or supplements manufactured overseas.
  • Take all herbal medicines strictly as prescribed and consult your health practitioner immediately if you experience any adverse reactions. 

We scoured through histories of herbal studies for you

Today, we live in a time when manufactured medicines and prescriptions prevail, but do they have to be the only approach to healing?

Even with all of these engineered options at our fingertips, many people find themselves turning back to the medicinal plants that started it all: Herbal remedies that have the ability to heal and boost physical and mental well-being.

In fact, at the beginning of the 21st century, 11 percent Trusted Source of the 252 drugs considered “basic and essential” by the World Health Organization were “exclusively of flowering plant origin.” Drugs like codeine, quinine, and morphine all contain plant-derived ingredients.

While these manufactured drugs have certainly become paramount in our lives, it can be comforting to know that the power of nature is on our side, and these herbal choices are available to complement our health practices.

But the extent of the power they hold is also still being explored. These alternatives aren’t cure-calls, and they aren’t perfect. Many carry the same risks and side effects as manufactured medicines. Many of them are sold with unfounded promises.

However, many herbs and teas offer harmless subtle ways to improve your health. Pay attention to what the evidence says about each herb’s effectiveness as well as potential interactions or safety issues. Avoid using herbs for infants and children and for those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. Most herbs haven’t been tested for safety for those who are vulnerable, and trying herbs isn’t worth the risk.

With this cautionary tale in mind, choosing the right plant can seem difficult to someone who simply wants to feel better without taking medication. That’s why, with the help of specialist Debra Rose Wilson, we’re looking at the most effective and therapeutic plants — which have strong scientific evidence to support their safe use.

Making decisions about herbs along with more traditional medicinal approaches is something you and your healthcare practitioner can address together. At times, Wilson notes, ingesting the plants can have even less risk than taking concentrated, manufactured supplements, as there’s more risk of contamination of the product with the manufacture processes. It’s a wonderful way to experience their effects and the satisfaction of growing them yourself. Herbs can also be a way to add a needed nutrient.

However, both plants and supplements, which aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration for safety or quality, can have questionable dosage and might have a risk of contamination. Keep this in mind before choosing supplements from the shelf.

If you’d like to add some medicinal plants to your wellness regimen, Wilson sifted through the latest studies and provides her own ratings system for our list.

These plants have the most numerous high-quality studies and are the safer choices among herbal remedies. She’s marked “0” as unsafe with no research, and “5” as completely safe with ample research. Many of these plants are somewhere between 3 and 4, according to Wilson.

We hope this guide will act as a starting point to those who wish to integrate herbal remedies into their lives and arrive armed with knowledge. As always, speak with your doctor before starting any new health treatment.

Gingko

As one of the oldest tree species, gingko is also one of the oldest homeopathic plants and a key herb in Chinese medicine. The leaves are used to create capsules, tablets, and extracts, and when dried, can be consumed as a tea.

It’s perhaps best-known for its ability to boost brain health. Studies say that gingko can treat patients with mild to moderate dementia Trusted Source, and can slow cognition decline in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Recent research is looking into a component that can help diabetes, and there continue to be more studies, including an animal study that says it might influence bone healing.

Turmeric

With its brilliant orange hue, it’s impossible to miss a bottle of turmeric sitting on a spice shelf. Originating in India, turmeric is believed to have anticancer properties and can prevent DNA mutations.

As an anti-inflammatory, it can be taken as a supplement and it’s been used topically for people with arthritis who wish to relieve discomfort. It’s used worldwide as a cooking ingredient, which makes it a delicious, antioxidant-rich Trusted Source addition to many dishes.

According to recent research, turmeric is also showing promise as a treatment for a variety of dermatological diseases and joint arthritis Trusted Source.

Evening primrose oil

The vibrant yellow evening primrose flower produces an oil that’s thought to alleviate the symptoms of PMS and skin conditions like eczema.

Studies that are available on this oil tend to be all over the map, but there are studies that are stronger than others. For example, some studies have found that evening primrose oil has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s been known to help with conditions such as atopic dermatitis and diabetic neuropathyTrusted Source. It can also help with other health concerns, such as breast pain.

Recent research points to improving the quality of life for patients with multiple sclerosis Trusted Source, changing hormones and insulin sensitivity in those dealing with poly cystic ovary syndrome, and using it topically to improve mild dermatitis.

According to these studies, evening primrose oil might just be the Swiss Army knife of the medicinal plant world. The caveat is that it can interact with several medications. More research is coming, and the applications are promising.

Flax seed

Flax seed, also available as an oil, is one of the safer choices among plant-based dietary supplements. Harvested for thousands of years, today flax seed is praised for its antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Although more research needs to be done with human subjects, one study says that flax seed can help prevent colon cancer.

Another study Trusted Source cites that flax seed has the ability to reduce blood pressure. When consumed, it can even aid in reducing obesity. Many people add flax seed and flax seed meal to oatmeal and smoothies, and it’s also available in the form of tablets, oil (which can be put into capsules), and flour.

The best way to add flax seed is through your diet. Sprinkle ground seeds on cereal or salad, cook in hot cereal, stew, homemade breads, or smoothies. Add flax-seed oil to salad dressing.

Tea tree oil

The tea tree, which is native to Australia, produces an oil that’s long been thought to be beneficial for skin conditions, including mild acne, athlete’s foot, small wounds, dandruff, insect bites, and other inflammatory skin conditions.

There needs to be further study into acne and scalp use, but for now, there’s a degree of research into the antimicrobial superpowers of tea tree oil on wounds and topical infections.

One recent study said that tea tree oil slowed the growth of acne-causing microbes. It’s commonly used as a highly concentrated essential oil.

Wilson recommends that tea tree oil, as with all essential oils, should be diluted in a carrier oil. She adds that it often already comes diluted in a variety of skin care products and creams.

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Echinacea

Echinacea is a lot more than those pretty, purple cone flowers you see dotting gardens. These blooms have been used for centuries as medicine in the form of teas, juice, and extracts. Today, they can be taken as powders or supplements.

The best-known use of echinacea is to shorten symptoms of the common cold-trusted Source, but more studies are needed to verify this benefit and to understand how echinacea boosts immunity when a virus is present.

Generally, save a few potential side effects, echinacea is relatively safe. Even though it needs more testing, you can always choose to use it if you’re hoping to see your cold symptoms end more quickly.

Grape seed extract

For years, grape seed extract, which is available via liquid, tablets, or capsules, has been well-established and applauded for its antioxidant activity. It has potent health benefits, including lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and reducing symptoms of poor circulation in the leg veins.

Studies Trusted Source are confirming that regular consumption of grape seed extract has anticancer effects and seems to halt cancer cell growth.

Lavender

If you experience anxiety, chances are that someone along the way has recommended that you use lavender essential oil, and for good reason. This aromatic, purple flower has a fairly strong standing among studies, which have mainly focused on its anti-anxiety capacities.

It’s proven to be soothing in a study conducted among dental patients, while another study confirmed that lavender can directly impact mood and cognitive performance. It’s also been commended for its sedative properties to help people get much-needed sleep.

Recently, it’s been discovered that lavender carries anti-inflammatory benefits as well. It’s most effective diluted and applied to the skin or used in aromatherapy, and it has few side effects.

Chamomile

With flowers that resemble small daisies, chamomile is another medicinal plant that’s thought to have anti-anxiety properties. Most people know it because it’s a popular tea flavor (one review Trusted Source says that over 1 million cups per day are consumed around the world), but it can also be ingested through liquids, capsules, or tablets.

The calming powers of chamomile have been frequently studied, including a 2009 study Trusted Source that states chamomile is superior to taking a placebo when treating generalized anxiety disorder. One recent study confirmed it’s safe for long-term use, and another recent study looked beyond its use for anxiety and confirmed that it also shows potential in anticancer treatments.

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