by Lynn Hinderliter, CN, LDN

I made my first herbal extract when I was 11 or so, over 55 years ago! I think my interest in herbal medicines must originate from the childhood years I spent with what would then have been called a “peasant” family in Sweden. I remember with pleasure and affection the walks my Swedish Foster Mother and I took in the woods, gathering rosehips for a winter syrup, strange mushrooms, chamomile for tea and many other wonderful plants. herbs

We have gone in a few short years from a time when the majority of people thought plant medicinals so much nonsense, past the point where their importance and valuable health contributions are recognized, to a time when exorbitant and frequently inaccurate claims are made for them. Where is the truth? As always,( like the pimple on one’s nose, which is neither as gigantic as one fears nor as unobtrusive as one might wish) somewhere in between. herbs

These are the three things that concern me most: false information, false expectations, and false products. herbs

The explosion of interest in herbal products has led to a situation where there is a lot of money to be made, and new “experts” and companies are springing up right and left. (Where were they when we were fighting the Government for the imperiled right to use natural medicines?) In order to find a niche for their products in the crowded market place, the less principled of them generally resort to one of the following tactics, which it is helpful to be able to recognize. herbs

1. They choose a well known herb, and put a small amount of it in their product in order to capitalize on the name recognition. The problem with this approach is that many herbs have to be taken in certain dosages to be successful. (See also 2, below) An excellent example of this is the new highly advertised multi which trumpets the presence of lutein as an incentive to buy.  There may be one petals-worth of marigold (a primary source of natural lutein) in their formula, but while this may be enough to upset the flower fairies, it certainly isn’t enough to do an eye any good!   Lycopene enhanced multi vitamins may contain as little as 250 mcg of synthetic lycopene, where the effective dose of the natural substance has been shown to be 15 mg. herbs

In addition, there is some evidence to suggest that taking herbs at low levels in situations where they are not really essential makes them less effective when their specific activity is required. Let’s use the analogy of the screw that needs to be tightened, when no screwdriver is handy. You grab a kitchen knife instead. Not only does it not do as good a job on the screw, but next time you need the knife likely as not the tip is broken off so you can’t use it for its designated task either.

2. They save money by making use of a part of the herb that does not contain the active ingredient, (goldenseal herb instead of goldenseal root for example) or another species of the herb, or even (as is occasionally and sadly the case) another herb altogether. I do not need to tell you what the problem is here! herbs

3. They choose one of the minor herbs which, while not well known, is on the periphery of medicinal consciousness (and certainly may well prove in the future, with proper study, to be important. ) They put it in their formula not because it has proven effects, but simply to make their product seem unique with the least possible expenditure. herbs

4. They exaggerate the claims for major herbs. They make unfounded claims for minor herbs, which means disappointment for the consumer. herbs

This leaves us at a point where several undesirable scenarios may develop. There have already been cases of products being found that not only don’t contain any of the herb they advertise, but also do contain herbs other than they claim. In the recent case of Plantain, the substitute herb was actually dangerous. herbs

There is not enough Echinacea in existence to fill all the bottles being offered at the moment – remember, you can’t go back in time and plant more of a crop! One recent investigation found two thirds of the samples they gathered contained NONE of the herb! The same situation exists for ginseng. There is also the problem of the misuse of Ephedra,* a truly miraculous herb when used properly for the conditions it is known to help, but dangerous when over utilized, as it has been, for weight loss and energy stimulation. herbs

The logical development of these misrepresentations is that people who are not getting the results they have been led to expect will abandon this encouraging trend towards taking control of their own health. herbs

Another looming and worrisome problem, and one which leads to a good deal of the #2, above, is that supplies of the most popular and effective herbs are becoming limited, some even endangered.

What are the answers? Prime in my opinion is to become a responsible consumer. When you put something in your body, you need to know herbs

  • that it is manufactured under conditions of strict conformity to quality and purity. herbs

  • that what the label says is in there, is in there in the form it states, and in the quantity and concentration claimed. A good idea is to check your information, also: what makes this person an expert? Do they have any financial interest in the claims they are making? Can you find corroborating evidence elsewhere? Do other experts agree? herbs

  •  Not least, does it sound too good to be true – because we all know about that one! Does it cost a lot of money? Call a local store and check: much of what is advertised on TV and the Internet  is not “new and unique” as they would have you believe, but has been on the market for some time, sometimes at a far more reasonable price – think of what the advertising costs them, after all! herbs

  • Last but not least, is the Company you are buying from a responsible one? Is it using sources you know you can trust?  Is it protecting the survival of endangered botanicals both here, and in the Rain Forests.? herbs

  • Many times, we are voting the future with our money, whether we realize it or not: and in this case we are voting not only for whether we waste it or spend it wisely, but also for our health versus illness, for principled professionals versus opportunistic charlatans, for the advancement of knowledge versus its distortion. herbs

In the case of herbs, it really is necessary to be very, very discriminating in your choices. I hope the above information helps you with your decisions. herbs

Footnote: * On the subject of Ephedra, which continues to be the object of much controversy,  the last line apparently hasn’t been written yet. Let us hope that reason will prevail, and this useful herb will be allowed back at strengths which threatren no-one if used properly. herbs

It does need to be used responsibly, however:  Reuters News Agency quotes the President of CRN, John Cordaro, as saying “Contraindications to the use of Ephedra include the presence of coronary thrombosis, heart disease, diabetes, glaucoma, hypertension, thyroid disease, impaired cerebral circulation, adrenal tumors, renal impairment, or enlarged prostate. Persons who are taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors or ephedrine alkaloid drugs should also avoid Ephedra. For everyone else, this analysis demonstrates the safety of the supplement.”    herbs

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