Herbs as a Preventative Agent and Source for Healthy Living

We have all heard of herbal remedies, passed on from generation to generation, lending healthful cures and preventative health maintenance from the ancient East to our American cowboy. Now through science, medicine is testing and researching the power of herbs and finding that there just might be something to the notion that herbs do more than look pretty, smell good, or make tasty spices and teas.For as long as man has been getting sick, old, or even imbibed too much, we have been looking for a cure for our ills. Frequently, before formal medicine as we know it today, herbs played a major role in aiding our ills and soothing our pains. Herbs have played a prominent role in nearly every culture to prolong life, heal the sick, or even prevent sickness. During The Middle Ages, numerous herbs, including garlic, were used to ward off demons, vampires, and The Plague. Science can provide some evidence demonstrating the use of garlic to potentially ward off The Plague.Recently, herbs have enjoyed resurgence in popularity. As most of us have become more health conscious, we have realized the drawbacks to relying solely on anti-biotic remedies to cure the flu, common colds, and most basic illnesses. We have started to look more seriously at older remedies that have been around for centuries for cures for everything from the common cold to arthritis. Modern science and medicine are now putting many of those supposed cures to the test, examining everything from wound healing poultices to depression remedies.At the Division of Basic Research at the South Carolina Cancer Center in Columbia, South Carolina, this research has been taken to a new level. Not only are they examining whether herbal remedies might work, they are also looking at issues related to safety, dosages, and the possible interactions herbs might have with traditional medicine prescriptions.In addition to their effectiveness, researchers are looking to see if herbs possess some benefit over and above allopathic medicine. They also are looking to see if herbal “remedies” allow individuals to control their medicinal decisions and thus possess more control over their choices of treatment and remedy. The use of herbs, both in remedies and in dietary supplements, has raised many questions.Are herbal remedies safe? Can an herbal remedy be abused to the point of addiction or ineffectiveness? Most importantly, do they interact with pharmaceutical medications, and if they do, is the interaction positive or negative?The best example of why research is needed has to do with the efficacy and interaction resulting from the regular use of St. John’s Wort. St. John’s Wort is a mild herbal antidepressant which is well-tolerated by many patients. While effective, it has been proven to have an effect on some common medications.For instance, St. John’s Wort can induce the CYP3A family of activation enzymes through which approximately 50% of drugs are metabolized. This type of interaction can create a risk by reducing the half life of such drugs as Indinavir, Cyclosporin and Cyclophosphamide, thus causing these drugs to less effective Interactions such as this, however, are not all negative.In some cases, herbal products might create a pathway that replicates pharmaceuticals, but do not possess any negative side effects. As an example, several natural anti-inflammatory compounds found in herbs like green tea, turmeric, rosemary, feverfew, and others do not possess the risk that some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are supposed to possess. Natural remedies might alleviate the reliance on these types of pharmaceuticals, and thus reduce the potential of causing several types of cancers.Additional study into these facts and findings is needed. The Division of Basic Research is dedicated to examining both sides of the issue. More research might, in fact, prove to us that what the ancients have known all along.

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