Keeping It Natural: Taking the Science Out of Herbal Medicines

Herbal remedies are the source of much debate in the scientific community. Some insist that they are quack medicine with no benefit at all, whereas other studies have proven their aids to humanity. Some medicines that are considered a staple of modern life find their roots in herbs, such as aspirin, which is derived from tree bark. With both sides being so entrenched in their position, it's sometimes difficult to see the wood for the trees.

One of the major issues is that herbal products are not as stringently medicated as their pharmaceutical cousins. Without research and empirical evidence, it can be difficult to know what you're getting- or what the benefits can be. But on the flip side, there is a strong argument that pharmaceutical companies are only interested in making money. Drug companies take out hundreds of patents a year, which is how they make their money. It's almost impossible to patent a herb, so there is little appetite for conducting the research needed.
With that said, herbal remedies are popular for a number of reasons. Among these is the fact that if used correctly, they can have a positive effect without having the serious drawbacks found with some pharmaceutical options. Sites like Nootriment exist to inform users on how supplements and natural medicines can be used effectively and safely.
One of the riskiest things you can do is assume that these remedies are fine to take, whatever your situation. The simple fact is that they can be potent, and will have an impact on the human body. If you take popular remedies without proper medical consultation, you can cause yourself no end of problems. Below is an overview of some popular herbal remedies, and the pharmaceutical drugs they can interact with. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Herb: St John's Wort
Interacts With: Antidepressant medications; selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac
If you combine St John's Wort with prescribed depression and anxiety remedies, you run the risk of Serotonin Syndrome. This herb has mild antidepressant properties and works along the same lines as SSRI, so never take them together.
Herb: Ginkgo Biloba
Interacts With: Ibuprofen, aspirin and anything else in a class of drugs called NSAIDs
Famed as a memory booster, Gingko is one of the most popular available today. It thins the blood as part of its working cycle. If you combine it with painkilling NSAIDs, then you run the risk of stroke or internal bleeding.
Herb: Valerian
Interacts With: Medications to aid sleep
In this case, "interacts with" means "doubles the impact". If you take any sleep medications or anti-anxiety medications in a class known as benzodiazepines, be careful. Never combine these together as it could be very dangerous, particularly if you have breathing issues. Valerian is often sold under the name “Melatonin”.
Herb: Licorice
Interacts With: NSAIDS, blood consistency and blood pressure
As with many of these drugs, licorice can thin the blood as part of its working cycle. It is very useful for soothing the GI tract and stomach ulcers, but be careful with what you take it with. It can also reduce the efficacy of some blood pressure medications.
In conclusion, the argument between herbal vs pharmaceutical rages on. But don't let it lull you into a false sense of security; herbs can be potent. Mix them with the wrong things, and you could be in real trouble.

Stay hungry (and healthy) my friends...

Ray B.