How do herbs work?
In many cases, scientists aren’t 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.
What is herbal medicine good for?
Herbal medicine is used to treat many conditions, such as asthma, eczema, premenstrual syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine, menopausal symptoms, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, and cancer, among others. Herbal supplements are best taken under the guidance of a trained health care provider.
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) has been used in traditional medicine to treat circulatory disorders and enhance memory. Although not all studies agree, ginkgo may be especially effective in treating dementia (including Alzheimer's disease) and intermittent claudication (poor circulation in the legs). It also shows promise for enhancing memory in older adults. Laboratory studies have shown that ginkgo improves blood circulation by dilating blood vessels and reducing the stickiness of blood platelets. By the same token, this means ginkgo may also increase the effect of some blood thinning medications, including aspirin. People taking blood thinning medications should ask their doctor before using ginkgo. Caution should also be taken with people with a history of seizures and people with fertility issues; speak with your physician.
- Kava kava (Piper methysticum) is said to elevate mood, enhance well being and contentment, and produce a feeling of relaxation. Several studies have found that kava may be useful in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, and related nervous disorders. However, there is serious concern that kava may cause liver damage. It's not clear whether the kava itself caused liver damage in a few people, or whether it was taking kava in combination with other drugs or herbs. It's also not clear whether kava is dangerous at previously recommended doses, or only at higher doses. Some countries have taken kava off the market. It remains available in the United States, 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), a non cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland. A number of studies suggest that the herb is effective for treating symptoms, including frequent urination, having trouble starting or maintaining urination, and needing to urinate during the night. But a well-conducted study published in the February 9, 2006 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine found that saw palmetto was no better than placebo in relieving the signs and symptoms of BPH.
- St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is well known for its antidepressant effects. In general, most studies have shown that St. John's wort may be an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression, and has fewer side effects than most other prescription antidepressants. But the herb interacts with a wide variety of medications, including birth control pills, and can potentially cause unwanted side effects, so it is important to take it only under the guidance of a health care provider.
*Source: Herbal medicine | University of Maryland Medical Center