By: Clifford M. Sonnie M.D.
I know you have all enjoyed reading over the many articles about my opinion of pills. I don’t like them. But many times, they are a necessary evil. I much prefer whole foods, vitamins and minerals, and herbal products instead of traditional synthetic products. I also prefer a well-balanced diet over any type of whole food supplement. The problem of course, is that often our diets can be woefully short of many of the needed nutrients. And this is because of the simple fact that it just isn’t in the food anymore. I remember having to eat that bowl of spinach when I was a kid because it was “good for me” and back then it had 10 times more iron in it than the bowl I just ate this afternoon of organic spinach. Folks, it just ain’t in the soil anymore. We have successfully farmed it out. In any case, one interesting observation I have made when patients come into the clinic and I offer them an herbal supplement is that it conjures up a number of different visions, if you will. As soon as I say herbal, patients think of some incredibly bad tasting tea or sort of slurry that you have to eat while facing the east and standing on only one foot during the full moon. It conjures up the boiling cauldron of some sort of boiling brew from Shakespeare or Witchy Poo. I’m sure you have all seen movies where the evil herbal practitioner appears from behind a beaded curtain and prepares the unknown herbal concoction. Well, folks, we have been using herbs our entire lives. Those who are chefs and those who are much more proficient in the kitchen than I am know that we use herbs all the time. Many of us have small herb gardens inside and/or outside that we can cut fresh unadulterated herbs any time we want. So, today I would like to talk to you about 5 of my favorite herbs. I use them in cooking, in teas ( and no, they don’t taste horrible), they have been used for centuries. I’m sure there will be herb products that you’all use that I’m not going to mention, and they are by no means less important.
The first herb I want to talk about is aloe. Better known as Aloe Vera. The aloe plant can be grown very easily in any climate. For centuries it was used exclusively externally. Then within the past century, studies in the industry suggest that the juice from the aloe plant can be taken internally and has been reported to be very effective against peptic ulcers. There are aloe studies out there that report that it can be very effective against Type II diabetes as well. Aloe is also safe during pregnancy and has also been used for gastric upset. It has been widely used externally for skin and by many burn units for radiation burns and also by wound clinics for skin ulcers. Conditions such as eczema and psoriasis have been helped by aloe and my grandmother soothed many a sunburn with a little aloe gel. If it is used externally, it is safe for everyone. Internally, it is only recommended for adults. I really couldn’t find a good reason for this, but most studies are only done on grown ups. If you need to use it externally, just snip off a little bit of the leaf and use the gel directly on the area. If you are ingesting it, the adult dosage is 1-3 Tablespoons taken as the juice through out the day or ¼ to ½ teaspoon every 2-4 hours when taken as a tincture. Commonly I find that it should only be taken for up to two weeks, because if it hasn’t worked by then, it probably ain’t gonna work for ya.
My second favorite is garlic. Yes, you may smell, but it is excellent for you. It has been used as a seasoning in food and medicinally for over five thousand years. It has been used by ancient man for treating colds, and infections and has even been mentioned in the works of Hippocrates. Garlic has been tested and is a “broad spectrum” antibiotic. Now, don’t get me wrong. It is not a manufactured antibiotic like traditional medicine uses. It fights a whole variety of different viral and bacterial infections. In fact, the amazing thing is that you never build up a resistance to garlic. It will be just as effective today as it was two years ago. One of the problems of traditional manufactured antibiotics is that the bacteria become resistant to the antibiotic and hence they are ineffective. Not so with garlic. It is an excellent cardio vascular agent. It actually increases the flow of blood to the smaller capillaries and reduces the tendency of blood to clot. The reason this happens is that garlic is an excellent antioxidant and prevents free radical damage. It has been known to lower cholesterol (although I consider that a minor detail) and has been known to lower blood pressure. As I mentioned before its “anti-biotic” capabilities with gastro intestinal distress such as yeast, fungal or parasite overgrowth. I commonly put patients on garlic either as a supplement or thru diet while treating Candida or parasitic problems and then recommend they continue on it after that issue has been resolved. A recent observation has shown that aged garlic extract has been shown to facilitate something called angiogenesis. This is a process where the body can help wound healing and repair damaged tissue. There is some evidence that it will increase the overall effectiveness of the immune system. Lastly it has been known for its anti-platelet capability to prevent blood clots. And thus, it should not be taken longer than and should not be taken if you are already taking Coumadin. Always check with your primary care physician first. I recommend a medium sized clove daily. I personally will chew a clove before going to bed and then chew a mint or parsley.
The third herb I like is called Milk Thistle. Again, it had been used for a couple three thousand years and has been used to regenerate injured liver cells. There have been numerous studies for the use of milk thistle for the treatment of liver damage due to alcoholism, drugs, industrial toxins, etc. It has been used effectively for patients with psoriasis, fatty liver, and hepatitis. It has some anti oxidant activity and has been utilized to some extent with cancers to the liver. It is also known as “silymarin, and you may see it in health food stores under this name. The only problem I see with using milk thistle is that some people complain it upsets their stomach. This has been occasionally reported and can be counteracted by decreasing the dose or by dividing it throughout the day.
The fourth herb I take is myrrh, yes, the one that is mentioned in the Bible that the Magi gave to the baby Jesus. It has been utilized for a thousand years before Christ was born in treating bronchial congestion and problems of the upper respiratory tract. Recent studies have shown that myrrh will indeed reduce fever and can protect the lining of the stomach from NSAID’s, alcohol and aspirin. It has been used internally also to combat parasites and recent studies have also shown its anti-oxidant activity and has been known to be a thyroid stimulating herb. Occasionally, people have noted a contact sensitivity when used topically. Also, this herb has not been cleared to be used during pregnancy and while breast feeding. A typical dose is ½ to 1 teaspoon of the liquid per day.
My last herb is turmeric. Also known as curcumin. This has been used to treat arthritis problems and hepatitis for hundreds of years as well. It has also been used by the Chinese to treat abdominal pain, bloating, and menstrual discomfort. Other ancient healers have also used this herb for skin infections and eczema. Recent studies of this herb have shown that it is a highly effective anti-oxidant. It is probably the best anti-oxidant of the five mentioned here. In the chemical curcumin which has the anti-oxidant property, is what gives the turmeric its yellow color. Most recently, most integrative physicians use turmeric for digestive disorder and inflammation. It has been used as an alternative for Celebrex and applied topically it has been noted to repel skin infections and has facilitated healing. Again, as an anti-oxidant it may play a role in heart disease and quite possibly cancer. It has played a role with the treatment of arthritic conditions. Turmeric (sorry, had to throw in the science) is a COX -2 inhibitor. As a result, you really should not take curcumin if you have excess acidity, it could contribute to stomach ulcers. As a spice, it is poorly absorbed in the intestinal tract. It can be aided by the use of freshly ground black pepper to the curcumin. 1-3 teaspoons of the liquid form or 1-3 pills is typically the recommended dosage.
Now these are my five favorites. They are the ones I have at home. I actually have an aloe plant and I have bottles of the powders. I don’t want you to just go out and use all of these. As I mentioned before, Milk thistle can upset the stomach, garlic can cause some problems with bleeding, myrrh you can’t take if you are pregnant, turmeric should not be used with stomach ulcers, and aloe can’t be used during pregnancy as well.
As I have said just don’t go out and buy boatloads of herbal products with out checking out their side effects. I‘ve mentioned that vitamins and minerals can have side effects, but herbals, can have even more serious side effects especially if taken with traditional drugs. Please make sure you clear it with your family M.D. or D.O. or come into the Clinic and we can talk about what you take. In the meantime, after you have checked them out, enjoy spicing up your meal! After all the smart healthcare consumer is alert and aware.
Clifford M. Sonnie M.D., M.P.H.