While herbal remedies are not in the news as often as they were a couple of years ago, they are still and important and interesting topics. In 1997, over 42% of Americans used complementary and alternative therapies. They spent some $27 billion on them, many of them unproven scientifically, and more than the 'out of pocket' costs of hospitalizations that year.
Last month, a report came out from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine almost as confusing as the subject itself. What is clear from that report and others is that the results of some of the research has shown that while some alternative therapies are trash, others hold some real promise.
New concerns have arisen lately about kava. Kava is widely used as a relaxant and mood elevator. It has now been shown to be very damaging to the liver.
On the other hand, grape seed has not fulfilled its promise. Once touted to reduce allergies, it has now been shown to be ineffective.
Another remedy that appears to have promise (at least in some small, preliminary studies) is coenzyme Q10. A Coenzyme is a product made in the body which speeds up certain functions. Q10 is used to promote cell growth and is a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants help rid the body of damaging chemicals that result in aging.
Q10 appears to be low in the bodies of patients with some forms of cancer. It appears to protect the hearts of cancer patients being treated with Doxorubicin. While this drug is effective in the treatment of cancer, heart damage is one of the more serious side effects. Q10 reduces the effect. The results of this study have not yet been published in a recognized, peer-reviewed journal.
Studies conducted in Denmark on small group of patients and with no controls, have shown that Q10 may induce remission. These were not good studies and the results are very questionable. The patients in these studies were also receiving traditional treatments such as, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Since the side effects of Q10 appear to be minimal, some physicians have suggested that the best place for this enzyme may be as a complementary.
Because most alternative therapies are considered supplements, they are not formally reviewed by the FDA. There is no guarantee of purity and potency. The content of pills can vary from one batch or from one manufacturer to another.
An example of this recently occurred in England. Chinese herbal mixtures for weight loss. They found that the herbs contained fenfuramine, a diet drug banned in Britain five years ago because it damaged heart valves.
The Mayo Clinic puts out the following guidelines for patients who want to use complementary medicines.
Here are a couple of resources where you can find good accurate information on herbal remedies.