Questions? We're here to help. Health advisors on staff. Call us toll-free at (866) 947-6789.

Herbal Therapy: Alternative Medication You Can Count On

Raymond Winters

Pharmacy products have shortcomings. They are strong, can have side effects and are part of an industry that often seems to put profits before people. However, the natural alternatives also have their shortcomings. Some question the reliability of herbals and other supplements since they are not scrutinized and regulated by the government to the same extent as pharmacy products. While no medication can be 100% safe, you can rely on natural medications that have been scientifically tested. Listed below are some alternative medications that have performed well on scientific tests.

Andrographis -- There are almost no conventional or alternative products to make a common cold shorter or less intense. Scientific evidence suggests that this herb works better than anything else. It is safe for short-term use while the cold is going on.

Artichoke leaf extract -- Artichoke leaves taken in pill form may help both indigestion and high cholesterol. A negative side effect is the possible production of flatulence.

Black cohosh -- Several small studies indicate that the roots of this member of the buttercup family help to relieve the symptoms of menopause, particularly hot flashes.

Blond psyllium -- The seed and outer covering of this fruit is used as a laxative and to alleviate irritable bowel syndrome. There is some evidence that high cholesterol and blood sugars may be aided.

Butterbur -- This shrub takes its name from its leaves which were used to wrap butter before the days of waxed paper and refrigeration. Preliminary studies suggest that it can help alleviate migraines.

Cayenne -- Known to cooks as chili pepper, the fruit of this pepper can be put into cream form and used to alleviate joint and muscle pain, particularly when caused by arthritis or osteoarthritis.

Devil's claw -- This plant from the Kalahari Desert can decrease the pain associated with osteoarthritis, but not that associated with rheumatoid variety. It has been used in Europe for quite some time.

Flaxseed -- In recent years this humble, nutty food seems to have quietly become considered a super food. If taken whole or powdered (not in pill form) it is full of fiber and essential fatty acids. Well-structured studies have shown that flaxseed can reduce cholesterol. Other claims -- about it fighting diabetes, cancer and menopause -- have not been proven. Further research may bear out these claims.

Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) -- Quality studies indicate that this acid -- made from black currant, borage, and evening primrose -- helps prevent nerve-damage in people with diabetes.

Garlic -- Most effective when eaten raw, garlic appears to help lower cholesterol. Other preliminary studies suggest that garlic may lower the risk of certain cancers and may slow hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure. If you take it in pill form, make sure that the tablets contain allicin, which is the active ingredient.

Ginger -- This root can ease nausea associated with pregnancy or motion sickness. As with any medication taken during pregnancy, check with your doctor before using it.

Ginseng -- Some promising studies suggest that ginseng can improve thinking and learning tasks. Other claims -- that it can help cancer, exercise performance, the heart and type-2 diabetes -- need more study. Ginseng should never be taken for an extended period.

Green Tea -- While more research needs to be done, green tea may reduce the risk of some cancers and lower cholesterol. The Food and Drug Administration has approved it for the treatment of genital warts.

Milk thistle -- An extract from the milk thistle's seeds, studies suggest this herbal protects the liver. It is sometimes used in drug and alcohol addiction recovery.

Peppermint -- Some general digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel, may respond to peppermint.

Saw palmetto -- Some studies have indicated that the berries of this plant may help with enlarged prostates. Others have not. Check with your doctor before starting a regimen.

Soy -- The clearest benefit from soy is dietary: it provides protein without the fat and calories of meat. There is some evidence that consuming soy protein can slow osteoporosis, or loss of bone density.

Valerian -- The roots of this plant are used to make pills and teas that aid in insomnia and anxiety. You should not take this herb for an extended period.

Before beginning any herbal therapy, consult with your doctor. You need to be particularly careful if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, about to have surgery, younger than 18 or older than 65 or taking any prescription or nonprescription medication.

Sources for this piece include "The Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine" and Mark Stengler's "Natural Physician's Healing Therapies."

Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2010. Published with permission.