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Issue No 104
Fall 2005 
page 43

Herbal Myths EXPOSED
Most of the time, when people experience results only after weeks of using an herbal medicine, it's because they took a subclinical, and therefore insufficient, dose.

Most Americans assume that the pharmaceuticals their doctors prescribe are unquestionably better than the herbal medicines that few doctors and relatively few Americans know much about. It delights me to no end that this picture is changing rapidly.
James Duke, PhD

There is still a great deal of confusion about how to use herbs . . . and few places to go for information. Your local pharmacist probably can’t answer your questions because, chances are, he never took a course in pharmacognosy. Most doctors know little about herbs. And the village shaman, the traditional medicine man or woman, has gone the way of the milkman.
Earl Mindell, RPh, PhD

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Myth 1
You need to take an herb for weeks or months before it will start working.
Some herbs work quickly, some slowly—just like drugs. Some botanicals, like ashwaganda, take weeks to gradually show an effect. For chronic conditions like colitis, significant improvement comes only after dozens of doses.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a fast route to relief, even in the case of colitis. I’ve seen people with colitis feel remarkably better after one dose of turmeric and slippery elm bark. Many herbs show equally swift success for acute conditions. For instance, Andrew Weil, MD, recommends peppermint and chamomile teas for immediate relief of upset stomach and nausea. Other herbs like California poppy will knock you right out if you have insomnia.

Most of the time, when people experience results only after weeks of using an herbal medicine, it’s because they took a subclinical, and therefore insufficient, dose. Ask your herbalist to recommend an effective dose if you’re still not feeling better.

Myth 2
Herbal formulas contain high levels of contaminants.
An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association this past December reported the presence of heavy metals in certain Ayurvedic remedies. The researchers obtained the Ayurvedic medicines, all manufactured in South Asia, from small, privately owned Indian groceries in their local Boston area.

As it turns out, the formulas in question contained bhasmas, or purified, specially processed forms of heavy metals purposely added to the formula according to traditional Ayurvedic principles. These mineral ash constituents would certainly show up in the finished product when tested for heavy metals.

DSHEA, the law that regulates dietary supplements in the US, actually bans the sale of these types of metalcontaining formulas. Therefore, explains Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association, the problem lies not with Ayurvedic herbal medicines in general but with the illegal importation of these particular products. “Mercury is an ingredient in certain traditional Ayurvedic formulas. They might be comfortable with it; my association is not,” he says. The products purchased by the researchers are not widely available —only through small Indian markets—and customers are likely foreigners familiar with these preparations, he adds.

Chinese formulas that were found contaminated in a 1998 study brought up similar issues of metal as an ingredient in certain traditional formulas and the problem of illegal sales. However, you can feel confident that Ayurvedic and Chinese products made in the US contain no such metals. Preparations purchased at the health food store, from reputable companies, pose little risk of toxic contamination.

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