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Herbal nutritional supplements
A few words about herbal supplementation. As well as other forms of dietary supplementation, it enjoys growing popularity. While no one disputes importance of plants in sustaining human life, use of isolated herb extracts can be beneficial - and safe - only when individually appropriate. In that, there is no difference with respect to other forms of supplementation.
Herbs can be used either to suppress disease symptoms, when they don't amount to more than a nature's version of drugs, or to enhance body's tissues and processes. In either case, their effect varies individually. The problem is in determining that specific individual need and response.
Herbs and herbal agents have been used to treat health conditions since ancient times. Many are still in use by modern medicine, although much more extensively in Europe than in the U.S. The list of conditions that can benefit from botanicals is rather long, as illustrated by this partial summary compiled from the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine(Murray, Pizzorno):
angina - khella (Ammi visnaga) extract
Since good part of this is, at least in general form, a common knowledge, many are supplementing their diets - or even trying to medicate themselves - with certain herbs, or herbal extracts. Needles to say, this is just as much shot in the dark as a random selective nutritional supplementation (or medicating). Consequently, the result can range anywhere from the positive effect to adverse reaction, with the latter being more likely due to the lack of user's knowledge about both possible complexities of herb's actions and the specific body chemistry to which it is applied.
Separate system of medicine, called homeopathy, uses minute amounts of herbal agents (also those derived from other sources) producing same symptoms as those that need to be suppressed, in an attempt to stimulate the body to resolve the problem.
A distinctive, external form of the use of herbs for producing beneficial effect is in form of essential oils - liquids containing concentrated plant aroma compounds (essential comes from carrying specific plant scent, or essence; not related to the essential fatty acids). Essential oil can be diffused - usually by heat - into the air and inhaled, producing specific, generally pleasurable sensation. Aromatherapy claims certain specific benefits - for instance energizing, improved mental clarity, and others - for specific oils, but it is not, thus far, substantiated by scientific research. It is more likely, as with any other agent, that specific scents produce effects that vary individually. As long as the sensation is perceived favorably, it will likely have positive effect on mind and body.
Essential oils can be also used in massage, when more of a caution is prudent, due to possible skin sensitivities.
Considering the complexity of body function and possible negative health effects, the only advisable self-styled oral use of herbal supplements is in the form of gentle tonics, which can measurably benefit body's processes, while at the same time being unlikely to cause unwanted side-effects. Here's a partial list of herbs used for such tonics, and the body system, function, or organ, that they are likely to benefit to some degree.
● Digestive system - Gentian, Agrimony, Dandelion Root, Ginger
● Elimination - Dandelion Root (laxative, liver function), Yellow Dock (laxative, skin perspiration), Dandelion Leaf (diuretic), Mullein, Coltsfoot (expectorants, aiding in removal of excess mucus)
● Urinary system - Corn silk, Buchu, Bearberry
● Lymphatic system - Cleavers, Echinacea, Marigold
● Liver - Milk Thistle, Dandelion Root
● Respiratory system - Mullein, Coltsfoot, Elecampane
● Cardiovascular system - Hawthorn Berry, Garlic, Buckwheat, Lime Blossom
● Nervous system - Oats, Skullcap, St. John's Worth, Vervian, Mugwort
● Immune system - Garlic, Echinacea
● Reproductive system - Raspberry (women), Saw Palmetto (men)
Some herbs, called adaptogens, have beneficial effect on the whole body. The most notable example of herbal adaptogen is Siberian Ginseng.
It is important to realize that even generally gentle and beneficial herbs
must be used in moderation,
and not for long periods of time. All of them do affect body metabolism, and can cause adverse health effect if abused, or if your health is already compromised.
For instance, herbs can be antagonists for some minerals, while synergists for others. Ginseng raises potassium and lowers manganese; licorice, raises sodium and lowers potassium. Milk thistle lowers iron (and manganese) liver levels18, and so on. These side-effects may have corrective nature, if there is an existing imbalance in opposite direction, but can cause or worsen imbalances (and their health effects) in any other case.
There is no such thing as "unconditionally healthy" nutrient, or supplement.
And, nothing - including herbal supplementation, even if appropriate -
can compensate for inadequate nutritional intake,
simply because it is primarily nutrients from food that build and support your health. If properly used, herbal supplementation can enhance body's functioning and wellbeing, but remain secondary in importance to the diet.
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