Botanical Health: Guide to Using Herbs

From the earliest of times, people have relied on plants to address health concerns. Today, a number of things continue to fuel a growing interest in botanical health, including a cultural use of herbs, ongoing scientific study, and government funding for complementary and alternative healthcare.

As a result, a wide array of herbal products can be found throughout the retail health marketplace. Shoppers should be sure that the correct plant genus (group name) and species (related member) is stated on an herbal supplement label. For instance, Echinacea purpurea (genus and species), not just Echinacea. This is important because some experts believe that species within the same plant genus may differ in effectiveness.

In addition to selecting herbal products with the correct plant genus and species names, there are a few other “herbal golden rules” that may help keep you in the know when considering the use of herbs.

1. Before using an herb or herbal formula for the first time, discuss it with your doctor or preferred health care provider. This is especially important if you have any health conditions and/or are taking any prescription medications. If you do start any herbal therapy and any reaction occurs, immediately discontinue using the herb or herbal product and contact your physician.
2. Always pay careful attention to recommended dosage. Be sure to follow label directions. “If a little is good, more must be better” does not apply here.
3. Check the label for any cautionary statements. Since some interactions may occur between some herbs and prescription medications, read labels carefully and discuss any questions or concerns with your physician or pharmacist.
4. There are few herbs that are truly not known to be safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding. If you are pregnant or lactating do not take herbal products, unless advised to do so by a health care practitioner.
5. Remember to be patient, the actions of many herbs are subtle and typically manifest when used over time.

According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), dietary supplements, including herbal products, may not be promoted for disease treatment or prevention. However, manufacturers are allowed to state scientifically supported claims about a product’s effect on the structure and function of the body. With this in mind, review the information below for some of the most popular herbs and the special benefits they may offer:

Cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon
Use: Helps support a healthy urinary tract
Function: Compounds in cranberry - anthocyanins have antioxidant properties
Actives: Anthocyanins and other antioxidants
Suggested Use: 450-900 mg extract or 12 to 32 fluid ounces cranberry juice (not cocktail)
Contraindications: Cranberry juice has a moderately high concentration of oxalate, a common component of kidney stones. See your physician if you suspect a urinary tract or kidney concern.

Garlic, Allium sativum
Use: May help support healthy cholesterol levels already in the normal range
Function: Active ingredient, allicin, has beneficial properties to support overall health
Actives: Allin or Allicin
Suggested Use: 500-1000 mg/day of concentrated whole garlic
Contraindications: Anyone taking anticoagulant therapy or aspirin therapy, or awaiting surgery, is strongly recommended to seek medical advice prior to use.

Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba
Use: May support healthy peripheral circulation, thereby supporting circulation to the extremities
Function: May help support healthy blood flow
Actives: Ginkgolides
Suggested Use: 120-180 mg extract in 2 or 3 divided doses
Contraindications: Anyone taking anticoagulant therapy or aspirin therapy, awaiting surgery or taking anticonvulsant medications, is strongly recommended to seek medical advice prior to use.

Echinacea, Echinacea purpurea
Use: Popular herb used for centuries for its health support properties
Actives: Echinacosides polysaccharides
Suggested Use: 300-400 mg extract or 350 mg taken in 4 divided doses of whole herb
Contraindications: Individuals with a known sensitivity to plants in the daisy or ragweed family or people with auto-immune conditions should speak to a healthcare provider prior to use.

Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
Use: One of the most studied and documented herbs in use today
Origin: Derived from a stout plant with large, prickly, glossy green leaves and a milky sap.
Actives: Silymarin
Suggested Use: 200-400 mg extract
Contraindications: Anyone taking any medications including anticoagulants, aspirin, blood thinning, and/or other medications or awaiting surgery should first consult with a healthcare provider prior to use.

Saw Palmetto, Serenoa repens
Use: Support men’s health, especially in later years of life.
Function: Works to inhibit the enzyme (5 alpha reductase) that allows conversion of testosterone to its active form (dihydrotestosterone).
Actives: Fatty acids
Suggested Use: Take 480 mg/day of pure standardized saw palmetto extract with water at mealtime.
Contraindications: If you are pregnant or nursing, consult a health professional before taking this product. Additionally, consult a health professional before taking this product if you are taking blood-thinners, NSAIDS, contraceptive drugs or estrogen therapy.

Turmeric Curcumin, Curcuma longa
Use: Has antioxidant activity to support overall health
Function: Antioxidant properties to help neutralize free radicals
Actives: curcuminoids
Suggested Use: 500 mg of Turmeric blend to include total curcuminoids
Contraindications: Avoid taking if history of gall stones or bile duct obstruction, or if pregnant or nursing. Caution with surgery - discontinue turmeric at least 2 weeks prior to undergoing surgery.