Tag Archives: Herb

Being sensible with Herbal remedies


Careful taking herbal remedies


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BELEM, BRAZIL – JUNE 07: Avoid Street displays like this



Sadly, many of the most efficient cancer drugs aren’t  very nice to take – so we end up either being resentful as we dutifully swallow our prescribed drugs – but not very willingly.

Or, ditching drugs altogether and going for old-fashioned alternatives.

But before we take alternatives, we should ensure that these medicines are not going to give us as many problems.

Some herbs can be very, very powerful, and even kill us if we mis-use them.

What’s best for us

Sadly, as a medical writer I get numerous claims of XXXXX herbs that can cure cancer.  They can’t.

Believe me, if there was a real Herbal cure for cancer, even though the drug companies might not like this, Governments are spending too much money on cancer treatment to ignore this.  But as so often happens, yet another claim of a ‘miracle’ plant bites the dust, and the world goes back to searching again.

But many people believe that herbal remedies can help mitigate the side effects of drugs, so if you want to take these:

a)  take your Oncologist’s advi ce

b) then ask the advi ce of a Pharmacist who understands the power of herbal medicine.

Better still, after you have taken sensible advice, go for products grown and supplied by one of the traditional companies that has a good reputation in this field – not one that has come on the scene from some country with a supposed reputation for medicine – but no actual backing or basis for their prescribing.

  •  Has it a good record?  Some companies have been going for 200 years
  •  Has it has an advisory committee overseeing products?
  •  Is it is proud of its traditions, guarding these jealously?
  • So look for a herbal company that has a good track record, as is sold in a specialist pharmacy such as Lloyds or Boots.
  • One such firm is the 200 year old firm of Potters Herbals, whose products are stocked in major specialist pharmacies, where the pharmacists understand herbal medicines.

Recently I saw a copy of their report Health of the Nation, which is a fascinating account of different major problems that affect our health – from coughs to lack of sleep.

Plants can be powerful!

  • Don’t let Foxgloves fool you;  like many plants and herbs, they are very pretty.  (see left).

Herbs gathered from plants are powerful:  aspirin is made from white willow;  morphine and codeine are made from the opium poppy – and the favourite for medieaval poisoners was the attractive foxglove (digitalis).

But  company such as Potters has a reputation to safeguard.  For many major worres today, from digestive problems to stress, they have an old-fashioned herbal remedy.  Our ancestors seemed to do well on these, and prescribed by someone who understands their interaction with anything else you can take, they may well provide a gentler solution than taking a drug.

Sometimes drugs are necessary – but have a look through this report and see if there is a solution that makes sense.  As they rightly say, “routinely popping pills isn’t necessarily the answer to safeguarding everyone’s health.  Natural ingredients can play a powerful contribution to health by working effectively, and generally they also have fewer side effects.

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Herbal remedies face the chop

The logo of the MHRA.
Image via Wikipedia

Herbal remedies face licence rule

According to the BBC, “Hundreds of traditional and imported remedies on the shelves of health food shops and herbalists are set to be banned under new licensing rules”.

An EU directive aims to protect users from any damaging side-effects that can arise from taking unsuitable medicines.   Come May 1st, all such products must be licensed.

Readers of this website will probably realise that there are very few herbal remedies that I will write about.  I am a great one for solid evidence, and so many herbal products have no clinical trials to back up their claims.  In fact the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) says that some can be dangerous.

BUT – many thousands take these remedies, and say they work for them.

And what has worried me,  watching the progress of this EU Directive, is that as far as I can see it has been driven by the drug companies – angry that their expensive products are sometimes by-passed by consumers worried about drug side effects, and preferring to take something they perceive as safe.

As usual, it is the poor patient who is in the middle, caught up in draconian laws demanded by big business.

To a certain extent, the Directive makes sense.  As a journalist I get access to many horror stories about the side effects from herbal remedies.  But I also am told by nurses of herbal remedies that help their patients, and occasionally write about these if a nurse whom I trust says something definitely seems to benefit their patients.

Provided patients tell their medical team if they are taking a herbal supplement, and they buy from a reputable source, surely there is no harm in this?


Many people firmly believe that a herbal remedy does them good, particularly when dealing with hot flushes.  As long as they have discussed taking this remedy with their medical team, why should they now be denied something that they say is helpful?

Interviewed by the BBC, Selwyn Soe runs The Herbal Factory, a contract manufacturer of herbal remedies in Croydon, south London. He believes smaller firms like his own will be squeezed out altogether.

“Unfortunately it looks as if we will have to close down because of this legislation,” he said.  “The problem for us is that although we would have to pay many thousands of pounds for a licence to keep making each product, unlike a drug company we would not have a licence to make that product exclusively. It just will not be worth paying out the money.”

The Maple Leaf Pharmacy in Twickenham, west London, specialises in alternative and holistic medicine alongside its conventional chemist business. Owner Galen Rosenberg estimates that about 20% of the health products sold in his pharmacy will simply vanish off the shelves. In some health food shops a far larger percentage of existing lines are likely to be outlawed.

Mr Rosenberg said he welcomed improved labelling, indicating side-effects, but said the rest of the directive was over the top.  ” We have something which we recommend for hot flushes ….  results have been excellent, but from April I will not be able to order these products in, because the producing company is not large and will not be able to afford the hundreds of thousands of pounds needed to invest for the new regulations,” he said.

“The new rules are very much in favour of large companies. It is the loss of freedom of choice which worries me. We also expect massive price increases because of the cost of compliance.”

MHRA is pleased
However, the regulator of all these pills and potions says the aim is to protect consumers, not to pick off small suppliers.  Richard Woodfield, of the MHRA, rejects any suggestions that the legislation is draconian.

“What regulation does is to ensure products meet assured standards. Although the standards are challenging, they are achievable and manageable,” he said.  “We already have 24 different companies regulating under the scheme and they are certainly not all large companies.”

Yet a leading medicines specialist says he fears the consumer may not be much wiser come May this year.

Professor David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, said the changes were of limited value because the rules did not require makers to show any evidence of whether the newly licensed products were effective.

The ban may not help

What will probably happen is that patients, who swear by a particular herbal remedy to help their condition, instead of buying from a reputable high street shop, where the owner has a vested interest in ensuring their clients aren’t sold anything that might have harmful effects, will be shut down.

In their place the online agencies, working offshore with no regulations to worry about, will be selling their remedies in vast quantities, with no regulation or even concerns over customer safety.

What can you do?

If you swear by a certain herbal remedy, discuss this with your doctor.  If they confirm this is safe, contact the manufacturer to find out if they have applied to have this approved.

If not, then it is a case of contacting your MP or MEP.

And the irony is, the EU insists that in future, only high quality, long established and scientifically safe herbal medicines can be sold over the counter. But the label still will not be able to tell customers if they can be shown to work.

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Healthy herbs help in cancer diet

This is a curly leaved parsley plant (the comm...
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Herbs and Spices Pack Flavor…and Health Benefits

This article is NOT about using herbs to cure cancer.

But using herbs and spices to help add flavour and interest to food – after all, Over two thousand years ago, Hippocrates said “Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food“.

As a medical journalist I get press release after press release from companies announcing their latest herbal supplement/pills/extract is guaranteed to cure cancer – but  they never have clinical trials to back them up, so I press DELETE.

New Year is the time when PR companies send out a blast of press releases promising that this herbal supplement promises everything – but all I do is wonder how much it has cost the company to send this out?

Some of the potions on offer sound very dubious – and believe me if there were any validity, the top cancer hospitals in France, USA, Italy etc. would be using them.

However, used sensibly herbs can not only add flavour to food, but can be helpful for some side effects.  Ginger, for instance, is receiving trials to see how it can help with nausea, and many CNS (Clinical Nurse Specialists) will suggest this if you suffer from sickness.

If your CNS recommends something, then you know that they have taken into account what side effects the herbs might have;  because some of them can be nasty.  Always ask advice from your medical team before trying herbal remedies.

All herbs add flavour to food, and many can be used to disguise that you have cut salt out of a menu.  You only have to go to a top European medical spa to see the huge amount of herbs they use in food, and every morning when I stayed at Clinique La Prairie in Switzerland (one of top clinics in world) I would watch the cheerful van driver arrive with a huge vanload of herbs for the kitchen.

Learn from what your stomach craves:  we all know pregnant women suddenly develop a craving for certain foods, and this is their body telling them to eat something as there is a lack in their diet.  I happily chew on parsley – the English curly variety, rather than the French flat leaf one (I don’t think it has so much flavour).

in About.com has published a Guide to helpful Herbs, and her are some of her suggestions, including her notes on ways that researchers are trying out herbs to supplement the effects of drugs.

Labiates – Leafy Herbs (Terpene)

RosemaryPhoto © Pam Stephan
Labiates include mint, thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil;  all of these can be grown successfully in pots on the kitchen windowsill, as well as the garden.
Fresh leaves of these herbs have a noticeable fragrance, thanks to fatty acids of terpenes, a substance that scientists are looking at.
In England, during the 1500s, it was thought that putting clippings of rosemary under your bed would keep away bad dreams. Pam says modern research found that when a rosemary terpene –- carnosol — was given along with Adriamycin (doxorubicin) and Velban (vinblastine) chemotherapy, breast cancer cells began to absorb the chemo that they had previously resisted.

Apiums (Apigenine)

ParsleyPhoto © Pam Stephan
Apiums include parsley (apium petroselinum) and wild celery (apium graveolens), which often show up in salads and stews, giving color and texture to meat and vegetables dishes. Parsley, now most commonly seen sprinkled as a garnish, was used in ancient Greece to crown victors at the Isthmian games; it was also thought to have power to cure people and animals from the effects of poison. Maybe it got its reputation because it can almost vanquish the powerful fragrance of garlic.Parsley contains apigenine, an oil that can inhibit angiogenesis — the growth of blood vessels that supply tumors with nutrients.

Alliums (Diallyl disulfide)

Alliums - Garlic, Chives, OnionsPhoto © Pam Stephan
Garlic, onions, leeks, shallots, and chives are all part of the allium family.
Alliums have such a potent smell that ancient Egyptians may have thought onions, buried with mummies, would revive the dead. Onions and garlic are often cooked with other foods. When eaten this way, they help lower your insulin peaks. This effect can help prevent uncontrolled cell growth and inflammation, which can leave you vulnerable to cancer. In lab studies, natural diallyl disulfide was more effective than 5-Fu fluorouracil and cyclophosphamide at causing cancer cell suicide. Alliums also have quercetin and allicin, strong antioxidants and anti-inflammatory flavonoids, which may prevent the formation of carcinogens and initiate cancer cell death.
Interestingly, many veterinary remedies will contain garlic, and I have often wished that the medical and veterinary scientists would work more together on developing new ideas.

Cinnamon (Proanthocyanidin)

CinnamonPhoto © Pam Stephan
Cinnamon is used in stick or powdered form, both of which are derived from cinnamon bark.
The Imperial Romans burned cinnamon at royal funerals and considered it a sacred plant.Phenloic polymers in cinnamon are beneficial for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Cinnamon has been said to reduce your blood sugar and LDL cholesterol levels, as well as increase your insulin levels.

Ginger (Gingerol)

Ginger root and powderPhoto © Pam Stephan
Ginger is a rhizome that is related to turmeric. Ground ginger has been used in western and European cooking since the time of the Roman Empire; in Asia and India, it is more commonly used fresh and used as a natural treatment for nausea and motion-sickness.
In either form, ginger has a hot, pungent taste that works as a good contrast to sweet flavors in desserts and main dishes.Gingerol has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor powers. In some studies, gingerol inhibited tumor angiogenesis (formation of blood vessels leading to the tumor), and seemed to reduce metastasis of cancer cells. Gingerol also acts as an antioxidant, scavenging free radicals that might otherwise cause cell damage.
It is interesting in these health-conscious times that trendy London bars are now stocking old-fashioned Ginger Beer!

Turmeric (Curcumin)

TurmericPhoto © Pam Stephan
Turmeric is a yellow powder made from the plant Curcuma longa, and is a venerable ingredient in yellow curry. Most Asian or Middle Eastern kitchens will have a supply of turmeric on hand, and it has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for about 5,000 years.  However, for many people this type of spice will react with drugs they might be on, so ask advice before using.

But as Pam says, Herbs Are Enhancement, Not Replacement, for Treatment

There are many more herbs and spices that contain anticarcinogenic compounds. These are just a few that may be in your everyday spice rack, or growing in your garden. While they do have powerful effects on your health, don’t take these instead of standard treatments for breast cancer. You will get the most benefit from fresh herbs and spices, rather than nutritional supplements. Let your doctor know if you start using larger than average amounts of these plants, since that may affect the effectiveness of your treatment or pose related side effects.

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