Finding beneficial herbs and supplements

Spc. Todd Goodman
Landstuhl Regional Medical Center

Herbs and supplements are available by the hundreds, but do they really work? If so, which ones are most beneficial?

A Landstuhl Regional Medical Center dietitian gives some pros and cons and other advice for taking common supplements.

There are benefits to using herbs. Thousands of years ago, had man not experimented with medicinal herbs, there wouldn’t be half of the medications now available, she said. But there are risks associated with their use, especially when taking other prescribed medications.

Garlic is one of the top-selling supplements in the United States and has been used medicinally for 5,000 years. In Germany, it has been proven to lower cholesterol and reduce other cardiovascular diseases. These claims have yet to be proven by health groups in America, however, Germany is widely recognized as the forerunner of organic medicine research, said Sue Walker, LRMC dietitian.

There are some instances when garlic should not be taken. People who take blood-thinning medication definitely should not take garlic, as it also acts as a blood thinner. In these cases, a small cut in the skin could lead to a larger problem, she said.

Glucosamine has become a popular relief for arthritis sufferers and people with joint problems. It is an alternative to steroid-laden anti-inflammatory medications, and after a three-year study shows no significant adverse side effects.

Fish oil is supposed to help lower triglycerides, which are the actual fat droplets in the blood. It also is said to lower LDL, the bad cholesterol.

“A lot of people take fish oil pills and supplements,” she said “However, the American Heart Association recommends getting the oil by eating fish twice a week and avoiding fish oil supplements. Getting your fish oil in pill form can increase bleeding during surgery.”

One herb, Saw Palmetto, offers positive effects with few adverse side effects. It is an anti-oxidant that destroys free radicals. In layman’s terms, free radicals run amuck within the body, causing damage to cells. The herb acts as an anti-inflammatory and is said to relieve urinary tract symptoms. The German Commission E, the ruling authority on herbs and supplements, said Saw Palmetto relieves symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate. It does not, however, reduce the actual enlargement.

The LRMC dietician recommends eating a variety of healthy foods to get the appropriate amount of nutrition, thereby eliminating the need for supplements.

“It is always better to get them the natural way, through foods,” she said. “Foods are bio-degradable and bio-digestible. Your body will pull what it needs from the food, rather than having to accept a large quantity of a pure herb.”

“Before you decide to take vitamin supplements or herbs, contact your physician first to make sure they don’t interfere with prescribed medications that you may be taking,” said Ms. Walker.