Herbs take centrestage
Cerassee, jack-in-the-bush, comfrey, aloe vera, ginger, peppermint, leaf-of-life are just a few nostalgic herbal names for the people of my generation. Over the last 25 years, herbal therapy, a form of alternative or complementary medicine, has gained prominence worldwide. Here in Jamaica, the upswing in herbal use in the last few years is simply a confirmation of what our fore-parents always knew.
I asked pharmacy colleagues in a few retail community pharmacies to weigh in on their top herbal sellers in 2010. The list included acidophilus, golden seal, echinacea, saw palmetto, flaxseed, evening primrose, ginseng, garlic, ginkgo biloba, and green tea.
We should be aware, though, that 'natural' does not mean 'harmless', and everyone, including children, pregnant women, persons with illnesses, and those taking medication, should seek a pharmacist or doctor's individualised supervision and advice before starting any herbal treatment.
Let's now focus on three of the popular herbs - garlic, ginkgo biloba, and echinacea.
Garlic fights bacteria
This sizzling hot-shot root (clove) is used to produce capsules, tablets, oil, powder, syrup, and tea. In the laboratory, garlic combats some bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses, so it is widely used for colds and flu, yeast infections, and viral warts. It has been used as an expectorant, antiseptic and worm medicine.
It has modest effects on lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol, and on thinning the blood in animal and human experimental subjects. The suggested daily dosage is either four grams of fresh garlic chopped, crushed, or chewed to release the active ingredient, 600-1,200mg capsule or tablet, or 4ml of aged garlic extract.
Calculation of the amount of active ingredient present in a given weight of garlic is challenging since it varies so much. Various studies have been published on the medicinal benefits of garlic in humans, but they have yielded conflicting results.
Ginkgo biloba slows mental decline
The tablets, capsules, tincture, and fluid extract of this blockbuster herb come from the leaves of a tree. The active ingredients are ginkgolides A, B and C. Ginkgo has been shown to improve blood circulation and oxygen supply to several organs throughout the body, and has proven to be useful in Alzheimer's Disease, slowing mental decline. It relaxes blood vessels, decreases blood clotting, and lowers blood pressure. Dosages of 40 -80mg of the standardised extract three times daily are given to adults.
Echinacea stimulates the immune system
This superstar herb whose flowers, roots, stem, and leaves are used to produce capsules, tablets, tea, powder, or juice, is known mainly as a stimulant for the immune system, but it also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
It is used to promote wound-healing and as a preventive for colds, flu, and other viral and bacterial infections of the upper respiratory tract. One probable mechanism of echinacea's action is to increase the number of circulating white blood cells, which helps us fight infection. Recommended dosages vary widely, and the optimal dose of echinacea is still unknown.
Dr Dahlia McDaniel is a pharmacist with a doctorate in public health. She is the chief executive officer of two pharmacies and a medical practice in Kingston; email:firstname.lastname@example.org.