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Herbal Medicine Basics

Herbal Medicine Basics

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Herbal Medicine Basics

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  1. Herbal Medicine Basics By Kristin Henningsen

  2. What is an herb? Botanical Definition: Plant lacking a permanent woody stem; many are flowering garden plants or potherbs; some having medicinal properties.. Medicinal Definition Part of a plant which contains medicinal properties

  3. The Science of Herbal Use • Phytotherapy: The science of using plant medicine to positively impact illness. German physician Rudolf Fritz Weiss (1898-1991) wrote the Textbook of Phytotherapy. This book has become one of the leading authorities as a reference for herbal medicine.

  4. What are phytochemicals? • They are not considered essential because the body does not develop a deficiency disease if they do not consume them • The body cannot make phytochemicals • Thousands of phytochemicals are found in foods; some foods contain hundreds of them

  5. Characteristics of Phytochemicals • Provide color and flavor and protect plants from insects, microbes and oxidation • Over 2000 phytochemicals act as pigments • At least 600 carotenoids- orange, yellow and red • Act as plant hormones • Components of plant’s energy-making process • Amount and type of phytochemicals vary greatly depending on the plant

  6. How do phytochemicals work? • Act as hormone-inhibiting substances that prevent the initiation of cancer • Serve as antioxidants that prevent and repair damage due to oxidation • Block or neutralize enzymes that promote the development of cancer and other diseases • Modify the absorption, production or utilization of cholesterol • Decrease formation of blood clots

  7. Examples of Phytochemicals • Indoles, isothiocynates- in cruciferous vegetables • Allicin- in garlic, onions, leeks, chives, shallots • Terpenes- in oranges, lemons and grapefruit • Phytoestrogens- in soybeans, peanuts • Lignans- flaxseed, seaweed, soybeans, bran • Saponins- dried beans, whole grains, red wine • Flavonoids- apples, strawberries, red wine, • Carotenoids- dark green, red, yellow vegetables • Isoprenoids- fruits, vegetables, whole grains, flaxseed

  8. Health benefits • Diets rich in vegetables and fruits are protective against heart disease and certain cancers • Also reduce risk of macular degeneration and cataracts • Reduce risk of infectious diseases, adult-onset diabetes, stroke, hypertension and other disorders • Studies in humans have not yet been completed

  9. Categorization of Herbs • Adaptogens: Herbs that have a nonspecific effect of balancing the body systems. • Analgesics: Herbs that are taken to relieve pain . • Antioxidants: Help to fight against free radical damage. • Astringents: They have a tightening effect and helps to promote a toning effect on tissue.

  10. Categorization of Herbs • Carminatives: This word is derived from the Latin word carminare meaning “to cleanse”. • Cholagogues: Help to stimulate both the production and flow of bile from the gallbladder. • Demulcents: These herbs help to soothe or protect irritated mucous membranes due to their high mucilage content. • Expectorants: Assist in expelling mucus from the lungs and throat.

  11. Categorization of Herbs • Digestive Bitters: These help in the digestion of foods eaten. • Immunomodulators: Promote healthy immune function. • Laxatives: Promote elimination. Bulk forming or stimulant.

  12. Herbal Remedies • In 2000, 12% of adults reported daily use of herbal supplements • Approximately 30% of all modern drugs derived from plants • Plant products known to treat disease are considered drugs but OTC herbs are not

  13. Effects of Herbal Remedies • Herbal remedies are mild, but may still have side effects • Available evidence indicates that some herbal remedies are safe and effective while others are neither safe nor effective

  14. Which supplements are potentially beneficial? • German Commission E Monographs: Created in Germany, these monographs describe plant medicine, their health care applications, dosages and safety precautions. There are more than 300 monographs listed currently that have been reviewed by professionals in the field of natural medicine.

  15. FDA Regulations • Supplements are considered safe until demonstrated to be hazardous by the FDA • Few have been adequately tested • Negative results may not be reported • 1993-2000- FDA received over 2800 reports of adverse effects of supplements, including 105 deaths Source: (2009) Dietary Supplements. Accessed 09/18/2009 from

  16. Herbal Contamination and Quality Issues • As discussed earlier, herbs are one of the classes of supplements that are governed by DSHEA. • However it does not regulate the following: • Where it is grown (quality of soil – organic, etc.) • Soil composition (mineral content, etc) • Harvesting techniques

  17. Herbal Contamination and Quality Issues • Other factors affecting safety, quality, and potency: • Standardization • Contamination of soil with heavy metals • Irradiated vs. non-irradiated (not labeled, used to kill molds and insects) • Source: American Herbal Products Association. (2009). Quality Assurances. Accessed 09/18/2009 from

  18. Quality assurance • U.S. Pharmacopeia- USP • National Formulary- NP • Consumer Laboratories- CL • Look for USP, NP or CL on the label • Health-related claims on supplements may or may not be true. Do your own research!

  19. Summary and Q & A • Not all herbs and supplements are the same. • You MUST know what you are looking for on the label before recommending or taking herbal products on your own. • Learn quality brands, look for standardization and know where to look for proper dosages (German Commission E Monographs) • Don’t trust the internet blindly…lots of things are put out there without screening.

  20. Further Resources • Blumenthal, M. (1998). Complete German Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council. • Food and Drug Administration • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine • American Botanical Council • Green Pharmacy • American Herbalists Guild • American Herbal Products Association