If you seek to stay healthy with natural herbs, you are not alone. Americans spend between $22 billion and $27 billion per year on self-care items such as herbs and other supplements, according to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. A little knowledge can help you sort through the myriad of choices to find the best herbs for your health needs. Always consult with a qualified health professional before using herbal or other remedies.
Some of your favorite herbal brews may offer considerable antioxidant benefits that help your body heal and fend off disease. When researchers at Cornell University compared the antioxidant activity of 17 of the most commonly used herbs and teas, they found that chamomile, rosehip and green and black tea topped the list. Herbs were tested for their ability to prevent damaging effects of hydrogen peroxide and also for their ability to assist the activity of superoxide dismutase and other important antioxidants produced by the body. Hawthorn, an herb often used to improve heart health, also showed significant antioxidant activity
Some medicinal herbs, such as echinacea, offer immune-boosting benefits that keep your immune system well-tuned. Echinacea may be preferable to antibiotics, in some instances, because it exercises your immune system, whereas antibiotics work separately from the immune system, according to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. Other herbs with immune-stimulating properties include astragalus, licorice, burdock, marigold and nettle. A study published in the June 2011 issue of the journal "Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine" found that licorice and nettle stimulated nonspecific immune response while burdock and bur marigold stimulated specific immune response. Researchers noted that these herbs exerted more powerful immune-activating effects than echinacea.
You may need to look no further than your kitchen spice cupboard for some valuable pain-relieving herbs, such as ginger and turmeric. These common spices may be useful in managing pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis. A study published in the June 2012 issue of the journal "Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology" found that black cohosh, dong quai and cat's claw contain a wide range of compounds that make these herbs especially beneficial for decreasing symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis. A number of herbs, such as willow bark, which contains the active ingredient from which aspirin was developed, provide pain relief through anti-inflammatory or other means. Feverfew is a go-to natural remedy for some migraine sufferers.
When using herbs, include a healthy dose of caution to avoid adverse or dangerous side effects. Nausea, dizziness or headache are warning signs that an herb may not agree with you. More serious side effects, including allergic reaction, can result in a medical emergency, notes the University of Chicago School of Medicine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regards herbs as food and regulates them accordingly -- and less stringently -- than drugs. Herbs do not receive the same degree of testing and are held to different manufacturing and labeling standards. Learn about any herbs you use or plan to use and seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.
- Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine: Effects of Drugs of Plant Origin on the Development of the Immune Response
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Pain Relief; Alpana D. Gowda, M.D., Karen K. D. Brees, Ph.D.
- Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology: Scientific Basis of Botanical Medicine as Alternative Remedies for Rheumatoid Arthritis
- University of Chicago School of Medicine: Herbal Medicine
- Pacific College of Oriental Medicine: Americans Spend 34 Billion Dollars on Alternative Medicine
- Harvard Gazette: Alternative Medicine Is Booming, Study Shows
Tracey Roizman, DC is a writer and speaker on natural and preventive health care and a practicing chiropractor. She also holds a B.S. in nutritional biochemistry.