When you think about how healthy foods are packed with true healing forces -- vitamins, minerals, antioxidants -- it's enough to make you want to turn to your garden's fruits, vegetables and herbs for all that ails you. Often, this prompts us to look to nature to find cures or treatments to boost our health.
For example (for the men out there), what if there was a way to use herbs to treat depression, boost your libido or treat an enlarged prostate gland? The day that product hit the market would be a banner day, right?
Well, as a matter of fact, there are such claims about some readily available herbs. You just need to be your own health advocate and proceed wisely when or if you introduce them into your health care regimen. Even though much research is still needed to prove the effectiveness of herbs, they may be something to consider. Read on to learn about what five natural herbs might do for your health and what the science has to say about them.
When you learn that major depressive disorder is the top cause of disability for U.S. residents ages 15 to 44, it becomes evident just how many people need help [source: National Institute of Mental Health]. As it turns out, there may be some relief in St. John's wort.
According to Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, St. John's wort -- known in the science world as Hypericum perforatum -- has been used to treat depression for centuries. Although not approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA), it does have a following in Europe [source: Hall-Flavin].
But does it work? St. John's wort may be effective for mild to moderate depression, but doesn't appear to do the trick when it comes to severe depression [source: MedlinePlus].
So is St. John's wort for you? Speak with your doctor, but also consider these warnings. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine states that it can interact negatively with other medications. It also references other potential side effects, such as dizziness, headache, gastrointestinal symptoms and sexual dysfunction [source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine].
Family life, careers and just plain aging can all get in the way of keeping our memories sharp. That said, getting them back into tip-top shape might be as easy as augmenting your health regimen with ginko -- an herb used as far back as 2600 B.C. for bronchitis and asthma. In fact, MedlinePlus lists several ailments the herb may be effective in treating, such as:
- Memory disorders like Alzheimer's or other age-related memory concerns
- Thinking disorders connected to depression and Lyme disease
- Leg pain from a lack of blood flow
- Trouble seeing color resulting from diabetes
Before you run out and start taking ginko, tread lightly. It is known to interact with several medications. The Mayo Clinic also warns that it can lead to bleeding risk, a concern if you are on a blood thinner or are scheduled for surgery [source: Mayo Clinic].
Although the full verdict is still out on Asian ginseng, if the hopes pan out for this herb -- one that has been in use for centuries -- taking it could mean a lot for a man's overall well-being. In fact, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine states that Asian ginseng is often used to give your immune system a jolt and improve your overall health. Other potential uses include helping your blood pressure, lowering blood glucose and even treating erectile dysfunction [source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine].
Again, remember to speak with your doctor before incorporating any supplement into your life. Although the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine considers Asian ginseng safe for most people when taken as directed, it does mention possible side effects from long-term use. These include allergic reactions, headaches, stomach concerns and sleep issues. Also, since the herb may lower your blood sugar level, that chat with your doctor is a must [source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine].
The sunny Southeast has a lot of positive attributes and you can add one of the region's five herbs to that list: saw palmetto, a palm tree.
So why should you care that saw palmetto does more than provide landscaping in this portion of the United States? According to WebMD, saw palmetto might help reduce the manifestations of noncancerous enlarged prostate glands. This would certainly be good news for those men experiencing symptoms such as the need to urinate frequently during the night [source: WebMD].
However, WebMD is also quick to caution that saw palmetto fell off the recognized drug list in the United States after 1950, even though it was used as a drug from the 1870s until then. In addition, it is still used in Europe. This, combined with the fact that there isn't a consensus among medical professionals on how or if it works, means that speaking to your physician before taking saw palmetto is the way to go [source: WebMD].
Horny goat weed may have a name to make a high school health class blush, but you can't hold that against it. After all, horny goat weed just might do the trick for several health concerns [source: Griffith]. They include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Low libido
Even though some lab experiments show positive results, Morgan Griffith of WebMD states that horny goat weed has yet to be given the green light when it comes to effectiveness and safety. Proper dosage appears to be key. In fact, high-dose usage can contribute to respiratory failure and spasms. Other possible side effects of using horny goat weed include mood changes, low blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. So before this one fills your bathroom drawer, have that always-important conversation with your doctor [source: Griffith].
HowStuffWorks looks at a study linking time spent with childhood friends with improved outcomes in men's health.
- FamilyDoctor.org. "Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know." May 10, 2010. (Feb. 28, 2011) http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/prevention-wellness/food-nutrition/nutrients/dietary-supplements-what-you-need-to-know.html
- FamilyDoctor.org. "Herbal Products and Supplements." Jan. 1, 2011. (Feb. 28, 2011) http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/drugs-procedures-devices/over-the-counter/herbal-products-and-supplements.html
- Griffin, Morgan R. "Horny Goat Weed (Epimedium)." WebMD. Dec. 7, 2010. (March 1, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/lifestyle-guide-11/horny-goat-weed-epimedium
- Hall-Flavin, Daniel K., M.D. "Natural remedies for depression: Are they effective?" Mayo Clinic. May 14, 2010. (March 1, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/natural-remedies-for-depression/AN02087
- Mayo Clinic. "Are Therapeutic Benefits of Herbs and Spices Proven?" Jan. 13, 2008. (March 1, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.org/medical-edge-newspaper-2008/jan-13a.html
- Mayo Clinic. "Erectile dysfunction herbs: A natural treatment for ED?" Sept. 10, 2010. (Feb. 28, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/erectile-dysfunction-herbs/MC00064
- MedlinePlus. "Enlarged prostate." Aug. 10, 2009. (March 1, 2011) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000381.htm
- MedlinePlus. "Ginkgo." Nov. 24, 2010. (March 1, 2011) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/333.html
- MedlinePlus. "St. John's Wort." Nov. 19. 2010. (March 1, 2011) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/329.html
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Asian Ginseng." July 2010. (March 1, 2011) http://nccam.nih.gov/health/asianginseng/ataglance.htm
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "St. John's Wort." July 2010. (March 1, 2011) http://nccam.nih.gov/health/stjohnswort/ataglance.htm
- National Institute on Aging. "Dietary Supplements." July 27, 2010. (March 1, 2011) http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/dietary-supplements
- National Institute of Mental Health. "The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America." March 7, 2011. (March 7, 2011) http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml
- WebMD. "Saw Palmetto - Topic Overview." June 30, 2009. (March 1, 2011) http://men.webmd.com/tc/saw-palmetto-topic-overview