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Increasingly Popular Herbal Remedies

Updated on March 21, 2011

Herbal remedies, supplements and medications have dramatically increased in popularity over the past two decades. Approximately twenty five percent of American adults report taking herbal remedies such as medicine or supplements. While this may seem like a new trend to some, herbal remedies are actually some of the oldest known forms of health care.

Scientists first began to extract and isolate healing compounds from plants in the early 1800's. Examples include morphine from poppies and aspirin from willow bark.

Many people turn to alternative medications, such as herbal supplements, because they want something readily available that is safer and less invasive for their system. Many are looking for benefits without the unhealthy side effects of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Supplements will often address the underlying cause rather than just treating the symptom.

Herbal supplements are categorized as a dietary supplement and are governed by different regulations than drugs. Supplement manufacturers are not allowed to claim that their products treat diseases, but are allowed to make structure and function claims. For instance, a supplement label cannot claim to "treat arthritis" but it can say "ideal for joint pain".

Since manufacturers are not required to test or control the quality of their products, there's no guarantee that the supplements are what they say they are. You can't be sure that a plant's active ingredient ends up in the supplement you purchase, whether the dosage makes any sense and what else may be in the pills. It is very important to buy from a reputable maker.

Some herbs have been proven to be effective for minor ailments. For example, saw palmetto may help with an enlarged prostate and St. John's Wort can be helpful for mild depression.

Many herbs are questionable for your safety. Ephedra is an herb used in many weight loss and muscle enhancement pills and has had over 1000 adverse events reported because of it. In many of those cases, it was because people took more than the recommended dosage.

Although it is imperative to understand the actions of the individual active components, scientific research is increasingly showing that active elements of many herbs interact in multifaceted ways to make the therapeutic result of a remedy as a whole.

Be cautious of taking herbal supplements if you are taking any prescribed medications. Side effects are more likely when you mix herbs and pharmaceutical medicines. Also, be careful if you have a medical condition as some herbs can be contraindicated. For instance, licorice root should not be taken by anyone with high blood pressure as this herb can actually raise blood pressure. Always talk to your doctor before taking herbal supplements.

It is recommended to choose herbal supplements with labels that are clearly marked standardized extract, meaning that each dose contains a specific amount of the active ingredient and that the quantity is controlled. Manufacturers determine this standard.

By taking single herb formulas, you're exposing yourself to less medicine and this decreases the chances of side effects. Although an exception would be if a mixture has just the herbs you are looking for.

Always check the expiration date on the label. An herb's effectiveness decreases when exposed to heat and light, so store them in a cool, dark place.

Check for the botanical name and for the species and genus names on product labels. This is important as a common name can sometimes refer to two or three different herbs. Ginseng is a common name but has different species that have certain properties.

Practitioners such as naturopaths have broad training in natural medicine and are likely to use herbs as part of their treatment plans.

The gentle nature of herbal supplements makes them reasonably safe, but this is not true of every herb. Always follow the dosage recommendations on the product label. Many people think that if a little is good, then more must be better. This is not a good practice with any type of supplement or medication. The effect of herbs on your health can be quite complex.

Even though herbs are readily available and are often advertised as natural, this does not mean they are totally safe or free of side effects. Herbs should considered as another form of drugs in our minds. They shouldn't be used haphazardly or taken recreationally. When used with proper care and attention, herbs can be an ally for your health.

Tips For Stocking Your Herbal Medicine Cabinet

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