Americans use botanicals in much the same way they use prescription pharmaceuticals recommended by their physician, or over-the-counter (OTC) medicines available at the local pharmacy-to treat symptoms, prevent disease, and maintain health and wellness.
Who is using botanical medicines?
You are not alone in your interests in botanical medicines. In the U.S., botanical medicines are one of the most popular and rapidly growing of all complementary therapies. In 2010, the global retail sale of botanical dietary supplements amounted to more than $25 billion, according toNutraceuticals World. With this buying power, the more the American public knows about botanicals, the more it can influence good government regulations and reward manufacturers who produce quality products.
Although botanical medicines are classified as dietary supplements, not drugs, it is common knowledge that botanical medicines are medicines. As such, Americans use them much like conventional medicines to treat diseases and disease symptoms. For example, women use black cohosh and phytoestrogenic herbs, such as red clover, to treat symptoms of menopause.
There is a considerable amount of scientific and clinical evidence for the use of botanicals. See Is There Good Scientific Evidence? However, manufacturers of dietary supplements cannot, by law, claim that they treat or prevent disease and so cannot provide detailed information on how to use their supplements.
As a result, consumers who wish to use these products in an informed manner must look for outside sources of information, such as the internet. It is important to assess the credibility and accuracy of these sources before making treatment decisions. Who is providing the information? What evidence do they cite? Who is paying for the site? When was the content last updated? These are just a few questions to ask to determine if the site is reliable. For more details see How Do I Get the E-Facts?
Health maintenance and disease prevention
Botanicals are also commonly used to maintain health and prevent disease. There is good research to support these uses:
- Immune-active botanicals, such as echinacea, strengthen and tone immune functions.
- Antioxidant botanicals, such as green tea, prevent cancer, slow aging, and maintain cardiovascular functions.
- Botanicals, such as St. John's wort, alleviate common psychological symptoms, such as insomnia, anxiety, or mild depression. It has also been used in combination with black cohosh to relieve mood symptoms associated with menopause.
- Valerian can also help with insomnia, and kava can help reduce anxiety.
- Botanicals, such as ginger, treat or prevent a variety of gastrointestinal problems, from nausea to constipation.
- Botanicals, such as black cohosh and saw palmetto, treat reproductive system problems, such as menopause and prevention of prostate enlargement.