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Scientific Analysis and the Benefit of Using Herbs

Although the use of herbal remedies is currently experiencing a re-awakening in the United States, it has always been a mainstay in Germany and Asian cultures. Most scientific research on botanicals has been conducted in these countries, but the U.S. has begun to catch up. The following is a list of popular herbs that stand up to clinical tests.

Alfalfa is a combination of two Arabic words: Al - from Allah, and Falf - which means 'Father of all Foods'. Alfalfa is a combination food plant and medicine plant. Because alfalfa contains calcium, protein, iron, B-complexes, copper, zinc, fiber and enzymes it helps with many ailments. It is often used to aid digestion help heal bone disorders and is often recommended as an anti-inflammatory.

Chamomile is known to most of us as a gentle relaxant that is commonly consumed as a before bedtime tea. The herbs sedative property comes from the amino acid, tryptophan. Chamomile tinctures, ointments and extracts are used to treat a vast array of health problems from an upset stomach to irritated skin. European research supports the claims that chamomile fights infections, is an antispasmodic and can be used as an anti-allergen and anti-inflammatory.

Echinacea is a flowering herb that used to be a staple in our great grandparents medicine cabinet. The herb has a mild protective effect on colds and flu and can shorten the duration of these illnesses if taken with the first symptoms. Research has shown that Echinacea boosts the immune system which helps the body fight of colds and flu. Some studies have shown that people with the lowest levels of white blood cells enjoy the most benefit from this herb.

Feverfew has long been touted as a remedy for headaches. In 1987, Postgraduate Medicine, published in England, reported findings on the use of feverfew in combating debilitating migraine headaches. The report states that all migraine sufferers that received feverfew experienced significant decrease in the pain or complete relief. Other European medical journals have published articles relating to the use of this herb as a natural way to prevent blood clots in the body and as an inhibitor of histamine release by mast cells.

Garlic is the odoriferous member of the onion family that grows wild in many areas of the world and has been used by many cultures to cure many illnesses. Recent scientific research shows that the use of garlic can reduce blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels and may, in fact, help heart patients maintain a healthier heart and lifestyle. Studies have also shown that people who consume garlic on a regular basis suffer less incidents of gastric cancer and may contain tumor-fighting properties. Garlic is also considered an immune system enhancer and an aid to digestion.

Ginkgo Biloba is particularly useful when treating circulatory problems such as blood clots and is considered beneficial for increasing blood flow to the brain. Research has shown that it is also helpful in the treatment of phlebitis, tinnitus and some forms of anxiety. In 1986 La Presse Medical of France, devoted an entire issue to the herb with twenty five percent of the articles focused on its reputed ability to enhance the memory.

Grape Seed Extract is a rich source of flavonoids which are antioxidants that protect the body against damage to cells and tissues. European physicians use grape seed extract to help ease inflammatory diseases and allergies. In some studies the herb has been found to reduce blood-platelet clumping which clogs arteries.

Milk Thistle has been used and prescribed in Germany for the treatment of liver problems. When analyzed and tested by German pharmacologists, milk thistle was determined to prevent toxic compounds from entering the cells of the liver. It has also be effective in the treatment of some forms of hepatitis and cirrhosis.

Saint John's Wort is considered a feel good herb. Traditionally it was used to ease menstrual cramps and insomnia and, in general, to calm the mind and heal the body. Research in Europe shows that St. John's Wort can be very affective in the treatment of various forms of depression. In fact, in Germany, more doctors recommend ST. John's Wort than Prozac or other mood altering drugs. The herbal anti-depressant has fewer side effects than its chemical cousins, however, it can cause sun sensitivity.

Valerian sounds like Valium and can produce similar effects, but is considered a safe alternative to prescription drugs used to combat stress. It is also widely used in Europe in place of sleeping pills. German studies indicate that Valerian depresses central nervous system activity and therefore allows us to relax just enough to allow the natural actions and reactions of the body to become more functional.

More Harm Than Help?

According to statistics published by the American Association of Poison Control Centers for every person killed by use of an herb, approximately five hundred (500) more people die from prescription drugs. Those seem like good odds but before you treat any condition educate yourself or seek the advice of an herbalist. The following is a list of herbs that could be harmful.

Borage may cause liver damage.

Broom is considered a toxic diuretic.

Chaparral has been banned in the U.S. The FDA warns that internal use may cause liver damage.

Coltsfoot is banned in Canada. Japanese studies determined it may cause tumors and liver damage.

Comfrey has been banned in Canada. Although sometimes used on minor cuts and scrapes, comfrey contains chemicals which can cause serious liver damage.

Ephedra is commonly known as Ma Huang. The FDA has received and reviewed numerous reports of adverse reactions including: liver failure, elevated blood pressure and strokes.

Foxglove can be a potent heart toxin.

Lobelia is chemically similar to nicotine and can cause nausea and vomiting. In extreme cases it can cause rapid heart rate and even lead to death.

Pennyroyal in an oil form is highly toxic, may cause convulsions and can be harmful to pregnant women.

Pokeweed may cause convulsions or respiratory paralysis.

Rue may make skin more susceptible to damage from the sun.

Senna is a strong stimulant laxative. Extended use can disturb heartbeat and leach the body of vital electrolytes.

Yohimbe raises blood pressure and causes nervousness and fatigue. The FDA attributes both seizures and death with the use of this herb.

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