Scientific Validation Of Herbal Medicine

There was a time when evidence for Herbal medicines was lacking, however this is no longer the case

By Tracey Planinz

This article focuses on certain herbs that are not only effective, but can make a valuable contribution to modern medicine.

While there are literally hundreds of positive reports which have been published in support of complementary and alternative medicine, the negative ones often find their way to the forefront of media coverage. Readers need to be informed, and take the time to research both sides of this debate. There are also negative reports on the side effects and risks of conventional medicine, that for some reason, do not always get the same media attention. Let's look at the converse side of the recent reports which condemn alternative and complementary medicine. Here are some popular herbs:

  • Red Yeast Rice – Red yeast rice has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. It is actually a fungus that grows on rice, which has a reddish hue. It is this same ingredient that gives Peking duck its enticing red color. Recent scientific reports concluded that red yeast rice has naturally occurring statins (similar to the synthetic statins in pharmaceutical drugs) that effectively lower LDL cholesterol levels, without the negative side effect of muscle pain, which is common with prescription drugs such as Crestor, Lipitor and Zocor. The study of 62 patients over a 24 week period, done by Dr. David Becker, (published in the Annals of Internal medicine, June 16, 2009) found that red yeast rice significantly lowered LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) levels when compared to the placebo group. While doctors still caution their patients on running off to the market to buy red yeast rice, the findings warrant significant attention.
  • St. Johns Wort – Another herb that has often come under scrutiny, St. Johns Wort has been evaluated in several studies. One, done in 2009 by Dr. Klaus Linde of the Center for Complementary Research at the Munich Technical Institute in Germany concluded that, “The available evidence suggests that the Hypericum [st. johns wort] extracts tested in the included trials a) are superior to placebo in patients with major depression; b) are similarly effective as standard antidepressants; c) and have fewer side effects than standard antidepressants” (Linde. K et al The Cochrane Library, 7 OCT 2009)
  • European Black Elder (elderberry) – Elderberry is an immune booster and blood purifier. In traditional herbal medicine, its flowers were used in teas to treat colds, influenza and bronchitis among other things. A study done in Israel shows that elderberry juice specifically inhibits the influenza virus. This research, conducted by Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu at the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center showed “In clinical trials, patients who took the elderberry juice syrup reported fast termination of symptoms. Twenty percent reported significant improvement within 24 hours, 70% by 48 hours, and 90% claimed a complete cure after three days. Patients receiving the placebo required six days for recovery”. Researchers further discovered that elderberry was effective against 8 different strains of the flu virus.( Medical Herbalism 01-31-97 8(4): 1, 11-12)
  • Turmeric (Curcumin) – Turmeric is a spice common in Indian foods. It is gold or yellow and gives the food a vibrant color. Much research has been done on this everyday household spice with very positive results. It is specifically used in the prevention and treatment of cancer. A report from Cancer Research UK stated, “A number of laboratory studies on rodents have shown that curcumin does have anticancer effects. It seems to be able to kill cancer cells and prevent more from growing. It had the best effects on breast, bowel, stomach and skin cancer cells. A recent American study in mice seemed to show that curcumin helped stop the spread of breast cancer cells to other parts of the body”.
The list above is only a small sample of the studies conducted which support herbs for medicinal use. As the debate between allopaths and naturopaths over herbal medicine rages on, consumers need to educate themselves. Clearly consumers are looking for alternatives to conventional medicine. Thus, the question should not be “do herbs have a place in modern medicine?”, but “how can we regulate the manufacturing of herbs and ensure quality and safety for consumers?”. Regardless of what your opinion on herbs and alternative medicine may be, people deserve a chance to review all the facts and make informed decisions when it comes to their health care. Freedom of choice is one of the fundamental principles on which this country rests.

In Health,

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