Herbs & Supplements and Their Uses

If you’re looking into natural ways to get a health boost, herbs & supplements are a great avenue to explore. Here are some of the most popular herbal supplements, the conditions they’re most effective to treat, and any side-effects you might encounter by taking them.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are dietary supplements containing fish oil and flaxseed oil (algae oil is a vegetarian substitute for those who don’t eat fish). Omega 3 fatty acids have been proven to assist with muscle activity, blood clotting, as well as issues with digestion. Fatty acids have also been known to help with fertility, and can cause improved growth and texture of hair, nails and skin.

One of the components found in omega 3 fatty acids, ALA, cannot be produced naturally within the body and must be obtained from outside sources. Omega 3 Fatty acids typically do not have negative side effects, and those that do occasionally occur are minor (and manifest in the form of burping, diarrhea, upset stomach, or indigestion).

Acai

Acai berries are a reddish purple colour and are native to tropical climates in Central and South America. While acai is one of the herbal supplements with the biggest ‘buzz’ around it, there is actually very little scientific evidence to back up the claims of it providing very many health benefits. That being said, it does have the potential to function as an antioxidant (much like blueberries) and some studies have shown that acai might have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera can be taken in many forms, all of which derive from the aloe vera plant. Whether you use it as a topical salve on your skin or ingest it, aloe vera is believed to assist with an array of skin conditions (sun burns, regular burns, psoriasis, eczema, and insect bites for examples). It’s also taken in liquid (or gel) form by many people who suffer from gastrointestinal issues like IBS, Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis.

Studies have proven that the topical application of aloe vera gel helps heal and soothe burns and abrasions without any notable side effects. Oral consumption of non-decolorized whole leaf extract aloe vera, however, has been linked to evidence of carcinogenic growths in male and female rats in the lab. It is unclear what the potential risk is to humans.

Dandelion

Dandelion is a popular supplement that comes in a variety of forms. The root is often ground up to make medicine (or tea), and the leaves are rather popular in salads and other dishes. Dandelion tends to be used to treat gastrointestinal conditions (loss of appetite and upset stomach/gas) as well as gallstones, joint pains and issues of the liver or kidney (it’s supposed to help clean out both and give your whole system a boost). Dandelion root is also popular with cancer patients.

Dandelion is generally considered a safe choice, but anyone with an inflamed/infected gallbladder or blocked bile ducts should steer clear.

Echinacea

Echinacea (also known as coneflower) is most commonly associated with treating colds and flus. Echinacea is typically ingested in tea, juice, or extract form.

Some people also believe that echinacea can be used to treat wounds and skin problems like acne, boils, and eczema. Echinacea taken orally typically does not cause side effects, but those with allergies to plants in the daisy family should be careful when applying echinacea topically as it can cause rashes, itching, redness, and even anaphylaxis in some cases.

Studies have shown that echinacea is most beneficial in treating upper respiratory infections. Echinacea applied as a medicated cream directly to the skin might also help lower the chance of developing recurrent vaginal yeast infections.

In addition to the aforementioned side effects, echinacea can cause gastrointestinal disturbances, dizziness, and even headaches. Anyone requiring immunosuppression (transplant candidates, for instance) should avoid echinacea as it is a potent immunosuppressant when taken long-term.

For a full list of supplements and their side effects, click here. Be aware that some supplements can react negatively to other medications you might be taking and that you should always do your research before you add them to your health routine.

Sources and Further Reading:

5 Risky Herbal Supplements

Herbs and Supplements

Popular Herbs in the United States

Herbal Medicine

The Disadvantages of Echinacea