Ultimate Guide To Supplements: Part 3

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The final piece to my Ultimate Guide to Supplements is finally here!  If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, check them out real quick before reading this one.  But if you’re up to speed, you might recall that in Part 2 I mentioned we’d be reviewing different herbal and botanical based supplements today.  These aren’t as common as your typical multi-vitamin or fish oil supplement, but still important to review.  Many cultures, religions and other traditions rely heavily on the medicinal properties of the flowers, seeds, roots and leaves of a variety of plants.  Even some modern medicines, like quinine (used to treat malaria and is made from the bark of the cinchona tree), are derived from plants and are widely used for therapeutic treatment.

Although there are tons of herbal supplements, claiming to treat a wide variety of ailments, not all are safe or effective in the treatment of any disease or illness.  Like all supplements, herbal or botanical supplements should be researched thoroughly before being taken.  Today I’m going to focus on the most commonly used herbal and botanical supplements here in the US.  I’ll review the background and possible medicinal properties of each supplement and let you know if they’re really worth taking.

  • St. John’s Wort – This is actually a beautiful plant – it has bright yellow flowers with giant petals!  But besides being a pretty decoration, St. John’s Wort has traditionally been used to treat mental disorders and nerve pain.  Today most people use it to treat depression, anxiety and sleep disorders.  The jury is still out on this supplement – no concrete data has shown it to be effective in the treatment of any mental disorder or sleep problems.  However, this is a widely used supplement and has MANY interactions with prescription drugs including:  Antidepressants, Birth control pills, Cyclosporine, Digoxin, Indinavir, Irinotecan, Seizure-control drugs, Warfarin and related anticoagulants.
  • Echinacea – there are actually nine species of Echinacea – all native to the US and Southern Canada.  People generally use this supplement to enhance their immune system in order to fight off infections and the common cold.  The results on this botanical supplement are mixed – some studies suggest that Echinacea does help treat and prevent upper respiratory infections like the common cold.  However, there are others that say it’s ineffective.  If you’re feeling sick, this might be a supplement to take in the effort to ward off the cold or at least shorten it! 
  • Ginkgo Biloba – the ginkgo tree is one of the oldest types of trees in the world.  The seeds of the tree have been used in Chinese herbal medicine for centuries – used for asthma, bronchitis and fatigue.  Today Ginkgo is more commonly used to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia.  Multiple studies have shown that Ginkgo extract is actually ineffective in the treatment or prevention of Alzheimer’s, dementia and reducing blood pressure.  Also, there have been some adverse reactions to this supplement, so be careful if you decide to take it.  Sounds like it might be better to do those mind games like Sudoku to keep your brain fresh!
  • Red Clover – this particular plant belongs to the family of legumes.  Traditionally this supplement has been taken to improve asthma, bronchitis or whooping-cough.  Today its more frequently found as a treatment for PMS, high cholesterol, osteoporosis and enlarged prostate.  This supplement also had mixed results – so take it with caution.
  • Aloe Vera – this somewhat slimy plant was used traditionally to heal wounds and skin abrasions and was also ingested as a laxative.  Today its use to enhance skin healing – this has actually been proven by a variety of studies.  It was, at one time, approved by the FDA as a laxative.  However, the companies producing the product failed to provide the required safety information and therefore the product was pulled from shelves.  

I hope all this information, plus the details from the previous Part 1 and Part 2 of my Ultimate Guide to Supplements has been helpful.  Remember, that with any supplement, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before you began taking it on a daily basis.  My opinions and suggestions are my own and they are not intended to replace medical therapy or treatment for any condition.  Again, I always encourage you to speak with your doctor first.

1.  http://nccam.nih.gov

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