by Annie Duong
Oftentimes, when we fall ill from the cold or flu, we reach towards a few pills of aspirin or a dose of Tylenol to alleviate our symptoms. In the Western world, our immediate thought of medicine is over the counter drugs and colorful pills. We may dismiss our grandmothers’ concoction of mysterious herbs, doubting the many health benefits it might have. But do any of these “natural” and traditional remedies actually provide relief? Many herbal medicines are not prescribed by physicians or by the FDA, which is why these remedies are used with caution .
The history of herbal medicine dates back to several thousand ago in ancient civilizations such as India and China around 3000 BCE. Much of traditional Chinese medicine focuses on the theory of blood circulation. One type of Indian medicine known as Ayurvedic medicine focuses on improving the body, universal connections, and life forces where individuals are then prescribed personal treatments based on their assessment of all three components .
Today, herbal medicine combines the usage of both Chinese and Ayurvedic and other non-traditional forms of treatments . As with any other treatment, there can be adverse side effects with unconventional methods. For example, ginkgo biloba extract is sought for its antioxidant supplements and suppression of platelet formation to increase blood flow and brain function. However, there have been reported cases where it was associated with spontaneous bleeding, subcutaneous hematomas, and a prolonged coagulation period when combined with other conventional medicines such as aspirin .
Another example of an herb sought for its medicinal properties is St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), which is used as an antidepressant. It is used in Germany for common psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety, but has not been approved by the FDA. This particular herb contains the active ingredient hypericin. In one case, a woman who had taken another drug, paroxetine- later discontinued after she started using the wort powder- had experienced symptoms of fatigue and nausea.
Ginseng is another commonly used herb, with its roots in Chinese history, where it was promoted by Shen Nung. It was believed to help stimulate the vertebrate immune system due to a steroid called ginsenosides. Studies conducted by researchers at the University of Hong Kong found strengthened B and T cell responses as proof of the stimulated immune system . However, one should keep in mind that a great number of T cells are required by the immune system, so the higher reactivity may be due to other outside factors as well .
In conclusion, many research studies have shown that these more traditional forms of medicine indeed have a biological and chemical basis in helping alleviate certain illnesses or improving our overall health. It is important to consult with your physician first before taking any unregulated or un-prescribed medications; one should take a holistic approach in finding the best treatment for their health needs.
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