Monday, December 20, 2010

Are Herbal Medicines Effective?

Plants have been used as medicines since the beginning of time. Today anyone can go into a store and purchase herbal supplements that are advertised to help with everything from depression to weight loss.

People in the United States spent more than $5 billion on herbal and botanical dietary supplements in 2009, up 22% from a decade before, according to the American Botanical Council, a nonprofit research and education organization.

The increase has prompted some concern from doctors and health researchers. There are worries regarding the purity and consistency of supplements, which are not regulated as strictly as pharmaceutical drugs.

Some products contain less than the promoted amount of the supplement in question — such as a 400-milligram capsule of echinacea containing just 250 milligrams of the herb. Other products are tainted by pesticides or heavy metals.

But even when someone takes a valid herbal supplement, it may not be as effective when taken as a pill or capsule rather than used in the traditional manner. For example, an herb normally ground into paste as part of a ceremony might lose its effectiveness if prepared using modern manufacturing methods.

Researchers also are concerned that there just isn't a lot of evidence to support the health benefits said to be gained from herbal supplements. People may be misusing them, which can lead to poor health and potential interactions with prescription drugs.

However, there are two sides to this discussion. Many people have found herbals to be an effective treatment for things that physicians were unable to diagnose and treat.

Source:Dennis Thompson HealthDay/USA Today12/17/10

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