Top Ten Herbs for Good Health
by MADELEINE BRINDLEY and ESME FLOYD, femail.co.uk
The number of people in the UK using complementary medicines has doubled over the past six years, and herbal medicine is one of the biggest elements.
We spend a reported £240 million every year on herbal remedies, with one in five of us spurning conventional medicine for a more ‘natural’ herbal cure.
Herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years and although they’re natural, they can have side effects so it’s important that you talk to an expert or your GP about side effects, such as digestive problems or headaches and safety, for instance during pregnancy.
Despite this, people are turning to herbs in their millions for a natural way to stave off depression, cure skin diseases, get a good night’s sleep and keep their bodies and minds in tip top condition.
Here, we take a look at the top ten herbs for health.
Used as an immune-boosting cure-all by native Americans, scientists now believe Echinacea stimulates the immune system to produce lymphocytes, which attack and destroy foreign bacteria and viruses.
In 1999, research from Sweden demonstrated that the herb is effective at preventing and treating the common cold because it stimulates the body’s production of interferon, a chemical which helps the body fight viruses.
The herb is most effective when taken to fend off illness – for example when you start to feel ill – rather than as a long term cure. Some evidence suggests that it should not be used by people with auto-immune diseases like lupus and HIV, but this is not proved.
St John’s Wort:
The undisputed king of herbal remedies, also known as the Sunshine Herb, St John’s Wort is reported to relieve depression as an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs like Prozac.
Research published in the British Medical Journal in 1996 revealed that it contains hypericin which boosts the levels of the happy hormone, called serotonin, in the body, which helps to control sleeping, eating and moods.
But like its chemical counterpart Prozac, St John’s Wort is not without its side effects and should not be used when pregnant or if you are taking anti-depressants, certain heart drugs and contraceptive pills and HIV medication.
Chamomile is relaxing after a meal
It’s the obvious choice when you want a nice relaxing cup of tea, without the effects of caffeine, but that’s not all ‘ the list of uses is long and varied, including eczema, gum disease, anxiety, mouth ulcers and insomnia.
Chamomile’s best known uses are those involving the digestive and nervous system – it is often drunk as a tea to reduce tension and stress and after meals to reduce inflammation in the bowel. Recent studies have shown topical applications to be moderately effective against eczema.
A newly discovered property of Chamomile is the antimicrobial activity of one of its active ingredients, azulene. Recent laboratory tests in Europe have shown that the oil can destroy bacteria which can cause infection, and work is underway to investigate this further.
It has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years as an energy booster and is thought to increase energy and enhance intellectual and physical performance, chronic fatigue syndrome and flagging sexual energy.
It has been shown to reduce stress and tiredness. University of Northumbria research conducted earlier this year suggests that ginseng can also boost memory if used together with Ginkgo biloba.
In rare cases, Ginseng may cause water retention and insomnia and it should not be used by pregnant women or people with high blood pressure.
This herb has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 5,000 years as a natural brain-booster, helping to ease depression, balance problems, memory loss and brain disorders like alzheimers, and its antioxidant properties are known to boost circulation and nerve action.
University of Northumbria scientists discovered earlier this year that, used together with Ginseng, Ginkgo biloba can significantly enhance mental performance and memory in healthy adults, especially helping sustained attention.
In some people it may cause mild headaches or upset stomach, and because of its blood thinning properties it shouldn’t be used with other anti-coagulants or aspirin.
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