Search this site
Article Listings
Active Living
Full Listing with story descriptions
A Healthy Balance
Ankle Sprains
Active Kids, Healthy Kids
Active Kids in Winter
Athletic Skin Infections
Children, Nutrition and Exercise
Beat the Heat!
Cold Comfort
Cold Weather Workouts
Concussion in Sport
Core Stability
Cross Country Skiing
Exercise and Disabilities
Exercise and Menstrual Irregularities
Exercise in the Heat
Exercise is Medicine
Exercise Options
Exercising in Pregnancy
Exercising in Pregnancy
Female Athletes
FITT Prescription
Footwear for Running
From Surviving to Thriving
Gadgets and Gizmos
Get Moving!
Get Motivated
Golf Exercises
Golf Injury Prevention
Head Injuries
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Hockey Injuries
Home Gyms
Jump Start Weight Loss
Knee Cap Pain
Knee Ligament Injuries
Live Actively
Low Back Pain
Osteoporosis and Exercise
Osteoarthritis of the Knee
Plantar Fasciitis
Prehistoric Workout
Recreational Safety Equipment
Safe Snow Shovelling
Shin Splints
Ski Conditioning
Sore Elbow
Sore Shoulder
Spinal Cord Injuries
Staying Active
Staying Fit in the Cold
Sports Nutrition and Supplements
Strength Training
Swimming Injuries
Teen Sports Injuries
Water and Exercise
Weight Training
7 Wonders of Walking
Adolescent Health
Full Listing with story descriptions
Adolescent Behaviour Problems
Adolescent Growth and Development
Body Image
Body Piercing
Chronic Diseases in Teens
Communications Skills
Concussion in Sport
Cosmetics and Skincare
Dangers of Artificial Tanning
Depression - Causes
Drug Use
Female Physical Exam
First Period
Internet Safety
Junior High
Mentoring to Quit Smoking
Parent-Teen Communication
Parent -Teen Interaction Patterns
Personal Care
Psychological Assessment
School Problems
Self Esteem
Self Esteem and Body Image
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Talking About Sex
Taking Chances
Teaching Respect
Teens and Smoking
Teenage Blues
Teen Bedwetting
Teen Drivers
Teen Girls
Teen Health
Teen Immunization
Teen Independence
Teen Rebellion
Teens and Divorce
Teenagers and Sexual Issues
Teens and Exercise
Water and Exercise
A Woman's Physical
Your First Job
Youth Violence
Ask the Doctor
Aspirin Every Day?
Cost of Doctor's Visit
Does My Sore Knee Require an MRI?
Do I Need a Bone Density Test?
Do I Need an Annual Physical?
My Doctor Says I Need a Test
My Doctor Diagnosed Osteoarthritis
Restore Your Core
Should I Exercise During pregnancy?
Vaccination Controversies
Full Listing with story descriptions
Advice from the Maternity Clinic
Advice from the Maternity Clinic (Part 2)
Alcohol in Pregnancy
Building a Better Baby
Birthing Etiquette
Birth Plans
Birthing Procedure Trends
Bleeding in Pregnancy
Blood Pressure
Breastfeeding Benefits
Caesarean Section by Request
Care for the New Mother
Cord Blood Banking
Delaying Motherhood
Blue after Baby or Postpartum Depression
Diabetes in Pregnancy
Eating Well for Pregnancy
Evolving Ideas about Pregnancy and Birth
Exercise in Pregnancy
Is it Safe to Exercise During Pregnancy
Fetal Alcohol
Flying During Pregnancy
Folic Acid in Pregnancy
High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy
Getting a latch on breastfeeding
Group B Streptococcus
Induction of Labour
Infections During Pregnancy
Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR)
In-Vitro Fertilization
Low Birth Weight Babies
Maternity and parental leave
Medication and Pregnancy
Managing Your Own Labour
Monitoring Your Labour
Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy
Pain Relief in Labour
Prenatal Classes
Preterm Labour
Planning a Pregnancy
Prenatal Care Providers
Postpartum Repetitive Strain Injuries
RH Disease
Rupture of Membranes Before Labour
Sex During Pregnancy
Skin Changes in Pregnancy
Smoking and Pregnancy
Support During Labour
Travelling While Pregnant
Ultrasound for Fun and Photos
Natural Remedies in Pregnancy
Pregnancy Weight Gain
Vaccinations During Pregnancy
Vacuum and Forceps for Delivery
Vaginal Birth After Caesarean
When Baby Comes Home
Full Listing with story descriptions
Asthma in Children
Attention Deficit Disorder
Bedtime Battles
Bed Wetting
Childcare Options
Children's Headaches
Childhood Obesity
Choosing A Babysitter
Colds and Flu
Common Childhood Skin Infections
Developmental Milestones
Diaper Rash
Daytime Wetting
Developmental Co-ordination Disorder
Feeding Your Baby
Feeding Your Toddler
Head Lice
How Children Grow
Hearing Loss
Hearing Issues in Newborns
Heart Murmers
Hip Clicks
Is it an Emergency?
Children and Sports Injuries
Lazy Eye (Amblyopia)
Learning Disabilities
Leg Problems
Preparing for Lab Tests
Red Rashes
RSV-Childhood Respiratory Virus
Safe Summer Fun
Sick Toddler
Sleep Struggles
Sniffles, Fevers, Rashes and Coughs
Introducing Solid Foods
Sore Throats
Speech Problems
Strep Throat
Toddler Safety
Tooth Injuries
Travelling with Children
Urinary Tract Infections
Vaccination and Autism
When to go to the Doctor
Whooping Cough
Worried Sick
Yeast Infections in Children
Chronic Pain
Full Listing with story descriptions
Managing Your Pain
Movement Matters
Moving Forward
Pain Medications
Returning to Work
Understanding and Goal Setting
When Pain Doesn't End
Dental Health
Full Listing with story descriptions
Antibiotics and Dental Surgery
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Baby Teeth
Bad Breath (Halitosis)
Children's Dental Injuries
Choosing a Dentist
Cosmetic Dentistry
Mouth Guards
Dental Exam
Dental Care Devices
Dental Caries
Dental Implants
Dental X-Rays
Dentures and Healthy Jaw
Esthetic Dentistry
Fluoride Findings
First Dental Visit
A Healthy Mouth
Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body
Jaw Joint and Muscle Problems
Keeping it Clean
Laser Use in Dentistry
Oral Cancer Screening
Oral health and long term care
Oral Health Care Products
Orthodontist First Visit
Painless Dentistry
Periodontal Disease
Removable Dentures
Root Canal
Seniors Oral Care
Sensitive Teeth
Sore Mouth, Aching Jaw
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Teeth for Life
Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD)
Tobacco Risks to Oral Health
Tongue Piercing
Tooth Whitening
Travel Dentistry
Water Fluoridation
Wisdom Teeth
Your Healthy Smile
Full Listing with story descriptions
10,000 Steps
A1C Test
A Diabetes Success Story
ABCs of Diabetes Management
Alternate Site Testing
Artery Health
ASA Therapy
Benefits of Insulin
Benefits of Breakfast
Blood Glucose Medications
Blood Glucose Myths
Blood Glucose Testing
Blood Sugar Lows
Blood Glucose Monitors
C-Peptide Testing
Canada Food Guide Revisited
Carbohydrate Counting
Catastrophic Drug Plan
CDA Guidelines for Diabetes
Celiac Disease and Diabetes
Celebrating Health
Childhood Diagnosis of Diabetes
Children and Type 2 Diabetes
Cholesterol-lowering Medications
Colds and Diabetes
Continuous Blood Glucose Monitoring
Cutting Edge
Dangers of Uncontrolled High Blood Pressure
Driving and Diabetes
Diabetes and Menopause
Diabetes Care Team
Diabetes and Depression
Diabetes Distress
Diabetes Eating on a Shoestring Budget
Diabetes Etiquette
Diabetes and Oral Health
Diabetes and Thyroid Disease
Diabetes and Your Mouth
Diabetes and Your Eyes
Diabetes in Cats
Diabetes in Dogs
Diabetes Management ABCs
Diabetes Meter Technicians
Diabetes Myths
Diabetic Ketoacidosis
Diabetic Retinopathy
Diet Tips for South Asians
Dining Out with Diabetes
Drinking and Diabetes
Eating Disorders
Easing the Strain of Stress
Eating Mindfully
Eating to Protect Your Kidneys
Eating Well During Shift Work
Eggs in a Diabetic Diet
Emotional Eating
Emotions of Diabetes Diagnosis
Erectile Dysfunction
Exercise Excuses
Why Fad Diets Fail
Fill Your Day with Energy
Diabetic Retinopathy
Food Temptation
Foot Care
Foot Health
Footwear and Foot Health
Fruits and Veggies
Gestational Diabetes
Get Active
Get Physical
Gift Ideas
Glucose Meters
Glycemic Index and Glycemic Loads
The Glycemic Index
Going Green in the Kitchen
Going Home from the Hospital
Grocery Shopping Tips
Holiday Party Survival Guide
Health Information on the 'Net
Healthy Happy Holidays
Healthy Beverage Choices
Health Benefits of Soy
Healthy Restaurant Meals
High Blood Pressure and Diabetes
High Blood Pressure
HbA1c Test
Healthy Eating for Active People
High Blood Lipids
Home from the Hospital
Home Alone and Sick
Hypoglycemic Unawareness
Impaired Glucose Tolerance
Immunization and Diabetes
Incretins-a Hormone Treatment
Injecting Insulin
Insulin Discovery-The Story
Insulin Handling
Insulin - the Key to Energy Management
Insulin Pumps
Insulin Pen Needles
Insulin Pump Infusion Sets
Insulin Pump Therapy
Immunization and Diabetes
Internet Health Sites
Islet Cell Transplantation
Kidney Disease - Reducing the Risk
Living Powerfully with Diabetes
Low Blood Glucose
Managing Diabetes
Managing Blood Glucose
Mental Health and Diabetes
Nutrition Food Labels
Meal Planning
Your Medication Expert
Medication Research Studies
Metabolic Syndrome
New Diabetes Technologies
Natural Medicines and Diabetes
No Need for Insulin?
Not Snoozing
Oral Health and Diabetes
Osteoporosis and Diabetes
Diabetes and OTC Medications
Pedicure Precautions
Pain of Walking - Peripheral Arterial Disease
Pet Diabetes
Planning for Pregnancy
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Preparing for Activity
Putting off Insulin
Reducing Stress of Surgery
Safe and Successful Travel
Schizophrenia and Diabetes
Setting Health Goals
Setting Goals for Physical Activity
Sharps Disposal
Shorter Insulin Needles
Sleep - a Missing Link
Smart Snacking
Smart Summer Nutrition
Snack Bars
Snacking with Diabetes
Social Media and Diabetes
Stress and Diabetes
Success in School
Supporting Spouse with Diabetes
Sugar, Carbs and Blood Glucose Control
Think Positive with Diabetes
Tiny Bites Equal Big Calories
Travelling with Diabetes
Tips for a Better You
Tobacco Use and Diabetes
Top 10 Reasons to Exercise
Treating Low Blood Glucose
Treating Hypoglycemia - Role of Glucagon
Tune up Your Diet
Type 1.5 Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes
Understanding Diabetes
Understanding Diabetes Medications
Urinary Incontinence
Vacationing with Diabetes
Vegetarian Eating for Diabetes
Vitamin D
Wonderful Water
World Diabetes Day
Working Toward a Cure
Your Medicine Cupboard
Zimbabwe Hand Jive
Family Medicine
Full Listing with story descriptions
ADHD in Children
Allergic Rhinitis
Antibiotic Use
Aspirin Every Day?
Back Pain
Back Pain Myths
Back Pain - Lower
Birth Control
Bladder Problems
Blood Transfusions
Breaast and Prostate Cancer Screening
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Colon Cancer Screening
Contact Lenses
Diabetes Management
Diagnostic Tests
Doctor Visit
Driving Vision
Dealing with Dry Eyes
Electronic Medical Records
Eye Exam
Family Doctor
Floaters and Flashes
Food Poisoning
5 Ways to Stay Healthy
Get Active!
Healthcare Teams
Heart Health
Hepatitis C
Human Papilloma Virus
High Blood Pressure
How to Talk to Your Doctor
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Joint Replacement Surgery
Kidney Disease
Lazy Eye Blindness (Amblyopia)
Medical Digital Technology
Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Myeloma
Opioid Myths
Primary Healthcare Reform
Prostate Problems
Quitting Smoking
Red Eyes
Respiratory Tract Infections
Screening Tests
Special Diagnostic Tests
Sports Eye Injuries
Stopping Stroke
Urine Tests
Win by Losing
Urinary Incontinence
Urinary Tract Infections
Vision Flickers
First Aid
Full Listing with story descriptions
Bites and Stings
Cuts and Scrapes
Emergency Care Guidelines
Eye Injuries
Fainting and Convulsions
First Aid Travel Kit
Hypothermia and Frostbite
Poisoning - Household
Growing Older
Full Listing with story descriptions
Advance Care Plans
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Alzheimer Disease
Avoiding Memory Loss
Building Strength
Caring for the Caregiver
Can I see Well Enough to Drive?
Congestive Heart Failure
Coping with Dementia
Controlling Medications
Diagnosing Dementia
Dementia and Agitation
Dizziness (Vertigo)
Eating Well
Elder Abuse
Exercise Benefits
Erectile Dysfunction
Eye Care
Eyesight and Driving
Fungal Nail Infections
Get Active!
Have Health, Will Travel
Health Tips for Seniors
Joint Replacement
Lab Tests
Living Longer With Diabetes
Macular Degeneration
Male Menopause (Andropause)
Maintaining Quality of Life as You Age
Memory Loss
New Corneal Treatments
Nutrition for Seniors
Parkinson Disease
Problem Gambling
Prostate Health
Seniors and Medications
Senior Sexuality
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Screening Tests
Seniors and Driving
Skin Structure
Skin Protection
Skin Over 50
Solving Sleep Issues
Staying Healthy
Stroke Prevention
Travel Tips for Snowbirds
Wills and Personal Directives
Modern Living
Full Listing with story descriptions
Adult ADHD
Aging and Memory
Alcohol and Your Health
Anger Management
Barbecue Basics
Bathtub Safety
Binge Drinking
Bisphenol A
Canada's New Blood System
Caring for a Loved One Dying at Home
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Computer Stress
Coping With Change
Cosmetic Surgery
Cosmetic Pesticides
Diabetes Epidemic
Diseases from Pets
Dying at Home
Erectile Dysfunction New Treatments
Exotic Travel
Fertility Issues
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Foodborne Illness
Flu Pandemic
Healing Through Music
Healthy Computing
Ice Safety
Indoor Air Quality
Mature Student
Melamine in Food
Middle Age Health
Mind-Body Connection
Mom Time
Money Matters
Outdoor Workers and Sun Safety
Patient Safety in the Hospital
Pets and Health Benefits
Pet Therapy
Physiotherapy Visit
Planning for End of LIfe
Reproductive Freedom
Safe Drinking Water
Smokeless Tobacco
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Stigma of Mental Illness
Street Drugs
Stressed or Depressed?
Stress in the Workplace
Stress Leave
Swim to Survive
Time Management
Travel Health Protection
Travel Comfort Tips
Travel Immunization
Understanding Change
Wind Chill Index
Workplace Drug Testing
Workplace Health
Full Listing with story descriptions
5 Myths about Nutrition and Diabetes
5 Tips to Manage Weight
10 Ways to Cut Down on Fat
Battle the Bulge
Boost Your Bone Strength
Body Image
Breakfast is Important
Bowel Health
Building Your Bones
Celiac Disease
Challenging the Milk Myth
Diet Reality Check
Drink Up!
Eating Smarter and Cheaper
Energy Drinks
Food Allergies
Food for Active Kids
Fast Food
Food Labels
Giving Up Gluten
Healthy Diet, Healthy Smile
Healthy Eating for Boomers and Zoomers
Healthy Eating for Seniors
Healthy Eating on Business Travel
Healthy Ethnic Meals
Fad Diets
Fruits and Veggies - 5-10 a Day
Fat Phobias
Fats and Cholesterol
Feeding Your Kids
Food Chemistry 101
Food and Mood
Getting Kids to MOVE
Healthy Eating for Teens
Healthy Habits
Herbal Medicine and Nutrition
New Ingredients for Your Shopping Cart
Kid's Food
Liquid Candy
Meal Planning with Planned Overs
Meal Planning for Busy Families
Mercury Levels in Fish
Night Snacking
Night Shift Eating
Nutrition on the Net
Nutrition Myths Busted
Nutrition Questions Top 5
Nutrition for Menopause
Essential Omega-3
Preventing Cancer Through Nutrition
Picky Eaters
Power of Fruits and Veggies
Portion Control
Power Lunch
PMS and Nutrition
Preparing for Surgery
Reducing High Blood Pressure
Replacement Meals
Sensible Snacking
Sodium and Blood Pressure
Sports-Minded Nutrition
Sugar Substitutes
Survive and Thrive
Teen Nutrition
Tips for a SuperDiet
Understanding Food Biotechnology
Vacation Eating
Vitamins D
Vitamins and Minerals
Vegetarian Diet
Weight Loss Wisdom
Weight Loss
Weight Wise Tips
Pharmacy Care
Full Listing with story descriptions
After a Heart Attack
Adverse Drug Reactions
Adult Vaccinations
Allergy Attack
Antibiotic Overuse
New Anticoagulant Medications
Inhaled Asthma medications
Arthritis Medications
Biological Response Modifiers
Blood Pressure Monitoring
Blood Thinners
Calcium and Iron Supplements
Changing Role of the Pharmacist
Children's Cold Remedies
Child's Fever
Choosing Sunscreens
Cold Relief
Cold Sores
Constipation and Haemorrhoids
Diuretics and Potassium Supplements
Drug Recalls and Withdrawals
Drug Interactions
Emergency Contraception
Erectile Dysfunction
Expanding Role of Pharmacies
Eye Protection - Sunglasses
Feminine Hygiene
Generic or Name Brand?
Heart Health
Kids and Cold Medications
Medication Questions?
Metabolic Syndrome
Natural Medicines
New Blood Thinners
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
Obesity Medication
Over-the-Counter Drugs
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
Over-the-Counter Drugs and Pregnancy
OTC Pain Relief
Packing Medications for Travel
Pharmaceutical Studies
Preventing Summer Hazards
Research Studies
Quit Smoking
Skin and Cosmeceuticals
Sports and Nutrition Supplements
Taking Medication
Take as Directed
Using Antibiotics Wisely
Vitamin D
Yeast Infections
Your Best Shot
Your Medicine Cupboard
Full Listing with story descriptions
Accident Prevention
Antibiotic Resistance
Backpack Pain
Bacteria Fight Back
Disaster Planning
Diseases from Pets
Cell Phones and Driving
Childhood Obesity
Cancer Prevention Tips
Chronic Disease Prevention
Cold and Flu Season
Disaster Planning
Diseases from Pets
Distracted Driving
Farm Safety for City Kids
Foodborne Illness
Flu Pandemic
The Flu and You
Heading Home for a Visit
Health Tips for Snowbirds
Hearing Loss and Music Players
H1N1 Virus - Plan Ahead
Household Mould
Infection Control
Injury Prevention
Live Actively!
Insect Repellant
Keys to Preventing Cancer
Kids' Mental Health
Live Actively!
Low Birth Weight
Are Pesticides Safe?
Preventing Burns and Scalds
Preventing Cancer through Nutrition
Quit Smoking 101
Respiratory Infections
Seniors and STIs
Should You Immunize?
Sun Safety
Surviving Disaster
Sushi Preparation
Teens, Drugs and Driving
Travel Health Considerations
Travel Medicine 101
Travel Tips
Type 2 Diabetes Prevention
Water Smarts
Vision Damage
Water Wisdom
West Nile Disease
Whooping Cough
Workplace Alcohol Abuse
Women's Health
Full Listing with story descriptions
15 Great Reasons to Breastfeed
Approaching Menopause
Birth Control
Breast Cancer Screening
Breast Cancer - Genetic Risks
Breast Cancer Self-Exam
Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines Changes
Breast Health
Breastfeeding Myths
Cervical Cancer Screening
Contraception for Mature Women
Cosmetic Procedures
Estrogen's Effect on the Brain
Fear of Fracture
Heart Attack
Hirsutism - Unwanted Hair
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Menopause - What Men Should Know
Menopause and Your Moods
Menstrual Bleeding - Abnormal
Menstrual Bleeding - Heavy
Menstruation Myths
Menstrual Pain
Third Generation Birth Control Pills
Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian Cysts
Oral Contraction (The Pill)
Pap Test
Premenstrual Syndrome
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Urinary Incontinence
Varicose Veins
Viagra for Women
Yeast Infections
Your Pelvic Floor
Family Health Online / Pharmacy at Safeway
spacer   spacer pharmacy image pharmacy
Family Health Magazine - NUTRITION

Herbal Medicine and Nutrition
Are they safe and effective?

The use of herbal medicines is “hot” and trendy these days. We’re not talking about herbs being used to spice up recipes. We’re talking about herbs being used in a medicinal manner. Why do we have this current trend towards the use of herbal medicine? There are a lot of questions to be answered around this subject. Who is using the herbs? Who is promoting their use? Are people turning away from conventional medicines? Are they continuing to use drugs that have been prescribed by their doctor and supplementing those medications with over-the-counter herbal preparations? Are there benefits to be obtained from the use of herbs? Are herbal remedies safe? Are they effective? Is there danger in using herbal medications?

The use of herbal medicine dates back thousands of years, but only recently has it, along with other forms of alternative medicines become popular in westernized countries. Vitamins and nutrition boosters currently rack up $1.3 billion in annual sales and are growing by 10 to 15 per cent a year. The Canadian herbal market runs an estimated $150 million a year.

One attraction of herbal medicines is they are considered natural plant products. Plants are readily acknowledged as the original source of many valuable modern medicines. Morphine comes from the opium poppy, digitalis from the foxglove plant, ephedrine from the ephedra (ma huang) plant, and acetylsalicylic acid from the bark of the white willow tree. Herbal medicines are available in many forms, including whole plant, plant parts, extracts, teas and infusions.

As consumers take a more active interest in managing their own health care, they are demanding more information. Encouraged by results from some popularized clinical studies, the public is searching for preparations to enhance energy and sexual function, increase longevity and ward off chronic disease. However, some precautions are in order. Different forms do not necessarily contain the same ingredients, and may not provide the same effects.


Anyone who uses herbal medicines should stick to those with a Health Protection Branch DIN (Drug Identification Number), so there is some quality control.

The preparation should be used only for minor, short-term, self-limiting conditions. The person should not be pregnant, breastfeeding, taking other drugs or suffering from diagnosed medical conditions.

Canada has been reviewing safety and regulations for herbs and botanical (plant) preparations sold as food and used for medicinal purposes. In 1985, the Health Protection Branch (HPB) of Health Canada established an Expert Advisory Committee on Herbs and Botanical Preparations to examine current practices and make recommendations.

In 1993 the committee recommended nine herbs and botanical preparations be listed as food adulterants, meaning they have an undesirable effect when added to food and others sold as food be listed as requiring cautionary labeling concerning their use during pregnancy. The committee recommended that a detailed description of herb and botanical product be developed. Traditional herbal medicines would be registered as non-prescription drugs and an editorial review board would evaluate the information about each product. These recommendations are still being reviewed.

Coverage of this topic by the media has led to many misunderstandings. In one study, 54 per cent of cancer patients viewed this type of treatment as a potential cure. Many thought that it might at least provide a remission of their disease. Some cancer patients hope that some alternative medicine will “boost” the immune system, and prevent the toxic effects of chemotherapy.

Thirty-one per cent of patients believe herbal medicine is non-toxic. Unfortunately, many people think “natural” is synonymous with “non-toxic.” They believe that it can’t hurt and it might help, even if it won’t cure.
Generally, people who seek out herbal medicines have less faith in conventional medicine. They believe that alternative healers are more “patient-oriented.” Often these patients have a chronic disease with symptoms not completely relieved by conventional medicine. Many of these patients then turn to alternative medicine because they want to have some control over their own health. There is also a perception alternative medicine is less costly than conventional medicine.

Herbs can be medicinal and can be powerful. It is important that people understand how to use them properly. If you want to use them, it would be prudent to discuss their use with your family doctor or pharmacist. It is wise to consider a herb in the same way you would a medication. Be an informed consumer and first ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why am I turning to herbal therapy?
  • Have I used this specific herb before?
  • If I am using herbal products for the first time, do I understand them?
  • Where did I get my information? Remember, not all promoters of herbal products have your health concerns as top priority. Often, the promises associated with a product are motivated by profit.
  • What is my medical history? Am I pregnant, or do I have any medical conditions?
  • Am I under the care of a healthcare professional?
  • Am I taking any prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications?
  • What result am I looking for?
  • Do I know what is wrong with me, what needs healing, and if this herb has been proven to correct my problem?
  • Am I willing to take this product even if there is no evidence it can help?
  • Is there anything about my condition, my age, or my health that would suggest I should not take this product?
  • Can I use this safely when pregnant or breastfeeding?
  • Are there side effects?
  • Are there possible interactions with other medications or foods that I am now taking?
  • Can I afford the cost of these herbal products?
  • Am I neglecting to search out other options that may be more effective for my problem?
  • Have I discussed this with my family doctor?

It is important to share with your family doctor and your pharmacist the names of all products you are using for self-medication. This includes vitamin supplements, herbal products and all over-the-counter drugs that include pain killers, laxatives, cold and cough remedies. There may be good reasons not to be using these products at the same time or with prescription medication; they may interact. Your personal medical problems may cause risks when taking herbal preparations.

Herbal products may be “natural” in that they are derived from plants. Keep in mind “natural” does not necessarily mean “safe” nor does it mean “effective”. There are poisonous plants as well as plants that are very safe. Each herb or herbal mixture requires its own study, and it is unwise to lump them all together and make a general statement about their benefits or dangers.

Popular products

There are a variety of herbal medicines that are currently popular such as feverfew, echinacea and garlic. While these products are receiving public attention, little is know about how effective they actually are or what the correct dose might be.

Feverfew is a plant that has been studied in controlled trials. It has been used to manage fever, asthma, rheumatism, gynecological problems and migraines. Two controlled trials studying the use of feverfew in preventing migraines have been published. Both studies showed a decrease in the frequency and severity of the headaches and vomiting. While feverfew has some benefits, the exact dosage, length of treatment and safety are not yet well established.

Echinacea is a popular herbal remedy. It has been heralded as a way to heal wounds and as a stimulant of the immune system. On the skin it is thought to reduce inflammation. When taken by mouth it is thought to help the immune system destroy unwanted material and germs in the body. There is some data to support these claims. However, studies have involved small numbers of patients, the type of echinacea and the dose have varied, and no well-controlled studies have been performed with products available to the consumer. A toxic level of echinacea has not been determined, but adverse reactions may appear as its use increases. Also, one study showed that echinacea may actually suppress the immune system rather than strengthen it when used in multiple doses.

The value of natural food instead

Many people are taking herbs to maintain good health and well-being. They hope to ward off chronic diseases such as heart disease or cancer, as well as some everyday viruses such as that causing the common cold. Eating a well-balanced diet, with lots of variety and an abundant supply of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains would be far more effective than taking a herb in the form of a powder or a pill or a special tea.
We are just beginning to name and study the benefits of thousands of components found in whole foods, especially in foods that come from plants. Some of the categories of these phytochemicals (chemicals found in plants) include:

  • glucosinolates found in crucifers such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips and kale.
  • phenolics found in tomatoes, green peppers, pineapples, strawberries and carrots.
  • monoterpenes found in citrus fruits, dill, caraway and mint.
  • garlic compounds found in garlic and onions.
  • phytosterols found in legumes and oilseeds such as soy and sesame.
  • flavonoids (more than 4,000) found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, stems, flowers, bark, tea and wine.
  • isoflavonoids, abundant in soy (act as phytoestrogens); lignans found in flaxseed, seaweed, lentils, soybean and oat bran.

A look at one example of a whole food shows that the benefit is not due solely to one or two isolated nutrients. For instance, let’s have a look at tomatoes. The hot news about tomatoes is lycopene, a bioflavonoid, which gives the tomato its red colour. Lycopene (found also in pink grapefruits and watermelons), protects plants from insects, disease and ultraviolet radiation. It may play a role in plant respiration, morphogenesis (the formation or development of new parts) and sex differentiation. Until recently, not much attention was paid to lycopene because it didn’t appear to have the traditional vitamin activity and was considered a non-nutrient component. It is now thought to help protect people against some cancers, including prostate cancer.

One medium-size ripe tomato contains only 25 calories and no fat. It also has about 20 to 25 mg. of vitamin C which is about half our daily requirement. About 1,400 I.U. (international units) of vitamin A, in the form of its precursor, beta carotene, is also found in this same tomato. Both vitamins A and C are powerfulantioxidants and play a role in preventing heart disease and some cancers. The tomato is also a good source of the B-vitamin, folate, as well as the mineral potassium (approximately 370 mg. of potassium in a medium tomato). All of these nutrients, along with many, many other others, come packaged nicely as a tomato. This makes the “whole” tomato far more nutritious than any of these nutrients in isolation.

But the tomato alone is not the magic bullet. Tomatoes contain many wonderful nutrients but they do not contain all the nutrients that the human body needs. That is why, it is so important to get a wide variety of different foods, each food having its own specific and unique mix of nutrients.

We are just now learning of some of the benefits of the thousands of components found in foods. We do not know much yet about how they react with each other, so it is far healthier to take these chemicals in the form of whole foods rather than individually in food supplements. As our knowledge of these food components increases, and if an isolated substance is proven beneficial for a particular medical condition, there may be a case for its individual use. In the meantime, eating a healthy diet which includes appropriate amounts and lots of variety from the four food groups (Grains, Vegetables and Fruit, Milk & Milk Products and Meat & Alternatives) is still your best bet for staying healthy. The Canada Food Guide to Healthy Eating says it all.

FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
Alberta College of Family Physicians
FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
Alberta College of Family Physicians
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specifid medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physican promptly. Copyright 2012, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 0S1  [NU_FHc98]
Safeway Med Advisor / Safeway Pharmacy logos
Safeway Med Advisor / Safeway Pharmacy logos