Many people shy away from herbal treatment, waiting for them to be 'proven' therapies. What many people don't understand is that 'proof' can already be found in the medical literature.
The use of herbal medicines has increased significantly in this country during the last decade. According to a recent survey, 30% of the United States population has used some type of herbal treatment. In recent years, medical journals that once warned against the use of alternative medicine are now publishing evidence showing that some of these treatments really do work. Although herbs should never be considered inherently safe, science is learning much regarding their effectiveness, their mode of action and their safety. Herbal treatments have been found especially usefulness in treating chronic diseases.
A few herbs that stand out as far as safety and effectiveness are:
· St. John's wort,
· Ginkgo, and
· Tea tree oil.
St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) For Depression
Recent studies have found that St. John's wort is a safe and effective treatment for mild and moderate types of depression. When compared to a standard antidepressant drug, imipramine, patients taking St. John's wort showed as much or even more improvement in their symptoms. However, patients taking St. John's wort experienced fewer side effects than the group taking imipramine. Although antidepressant therapy can take 6 weeks or more to see improvements, patients in this study taking St. John's wort saw improvements in as little as two weeks. Additional studies, however, have found that St. Johns wort is not effective in treating more serious types of depression and individual with severe depression should seek professional help.
Many preparations of St. John's wort are standardized to contain 0.2 - 0.3% of hypericin, the active ingredient of St. John's wort. Doses that are effective range from 500 mg daily to 1050 mg daily. The most common side effect of St. John's wort is dry mouth. It is important that individuals taking St. John's wort not take other antidepressants including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac and monoamine oxidase inhibitors such as Nardil. In fact, don't take any other medications if you take St. Johns' wort without notifying your physician, as this herb is known to affect the metabolism of many different drugs. St. John's wort should also not be used during pregnancy.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) for Dementia
Ginkgo is a very popular treatment in European countries for treating dementia. Dementia refers to an impairment of intellectual function or memory that can occur with age or with Alzheimer's disease. A recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that ginkgo improved the symptoms of dementia in patients taking the herb for 6-12 months. This study confirms several older studies that had similar results.
Most ginkgo products are standardized to contain 24-26% flavone glycosides and doses should range from 120-240 mg gingko per day. It can take 12-24 weeks of using ginkgo before improvements are seen. Results also appear better in younger patients with an average age of 69 years compared to older patients with an average age of 83 years.
Ginkgo also has a reputation of improving circulation. A recent review of the literature found eight double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized studies showing that ginkgo improved blood circulation in the legs. This decrease in circulation can cause individuals to limp and have pain with walking. Patients taking gingko were able to increase the amount of walking they were able to do without pain.
Because gingko exhibits monoamine oxidase inhibitor activity it should not be used with similar drugs such as antidepressants. Gingko also has some anti-clotting activity and should not be taken with anticoagulants or taken prior to surgery.
Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) for Infection
Tea tree oil refers to the essential oil distilled from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia tree that grows in Australia. This oil has antiseptic and antimicrobial activity that can be used externally to treat a number of skin infections. One study found that an ointment containing 10% tea tree oil was just as effective as the antimycotic, tolnaftate, in relieving the symptoms of athlete's foot after four weeks of use. Separate studies have also found tea tree oil effective in treating acne and toenail fungus.
Tea tree oil is typically used at concentrations between 5-20%; however, it can be used full strength to treat infections of the toenails. Skin irritation can occur in some individuals and its use should be stopped if this happens. Never take tea tree oil internally as it can result in central nervous system toxicity.