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Herbal remedies for common ailments

Posted May 08, 2013 in Advice Column, Des Moines West

Herbs have been used for centuries to relieve pain and alleviate the symptoms of an array of illnesses. Modern medicine mostly relies on drugs that are created in labs and manufactured on assembly lines.

But herbal remedies are making a comeback. Physicians and patients alike are more open to alternative forms of medicine that can be equally as effective as traditional treatments, without the side effects.

“While there are no large studies on herbal supplements, small studies and years of practice show that these remedies are effective,” says Melita Marcial-Schuster, D.O., assistant professor and family medicine physician at Des Moines University. “They work more synergistically with the body, which often means fewer side effects.”

An over-the-counter pill or prescription drug doesn’t have to be the first line of defense to cure what ails you. Marcial-Schuster offers five herbs proven to be effective at fighting common ailments.

•    Echinacea. Widely used to fight the common cold and other infections, echinacea provides a boost to the immune system. Taking this herb at the onset of a cold can keep it from developing or lessen the severity of cold symptoms.

•    Ginger. Already a spice rack staple, ginger can help improve digestion. It’s most commonly used to treat upset stomach, motion sickness, nausea and vomiting.

•    Turmeric. Similar to ginger, turmeric is an herb commonly found in curry and mustard. This natural anti-inflammatory has been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of conditions.

•    Fish oils. Omega-3 and other fish oils contain nutrients that help prevent heart disease and stroke. Whether you take it in pill form or by eating oily fish like salmon, it reduces cholesterol and triglycerides.

•    Holy basil. Holy basil is considered sacred in the Hindu religious tradition, hence the name. It’s a natural mood elevator that can counteract the effects of stress and depression.

Herbal remedies have their downsides. They are not covered by insurance and can therefore be a more expensive option. Herbal supplements are also not regulated by the FDA, so they don’t go through the same rigorous testing that pharmaceuticals do.

“Herbal supplements can be a safer, gentler treatment option, but make sure you’re using a reputable brand,” advises Marcial-Schuster. “Do your research and get information from reliable sources.

“And be sure to talk with your health care provider. Herbs may be natural, but they can still interact with traditional drugs and with each other to cause serious side effects,” Marcial-Schuster adds.

Information provided by Des Moines University Clinic, 3200 Grand Ave., 271-1700. 

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