Thursday, February 28, 2013

Herbs for Organs--Part One

If you thought this was going to be a post about what kind of herbs go with liver or kidneys, you are out of luck. (You can also cue in the Hannibal Lecter jokes).  No, a friend pointed me to this pic and asked me to debunk it:
Included was the caption:
 Herbs For Organs - Our bodies have the ability to naturally flush out toxins if we provide the right environment for our organs. Include these herbs in your diet to help your bodies natural detoxification process!

I have talked about detoxification before, but I will summarize again.  The bodys detoxification system, like the immune system, is rather like a tire.  It can be low, it can be at normal capacity, or you can try to overfill it.  It can be low because of illness or a chronic problem that has gone untreated (bad), it can be working normally, or you can try to enhance it and have it blow up in your face (also bad).  If your kidneys and liver (the main cleansing organs that people think about) are failing, you can attempt to remove the offending problem, but you cant enhance the function.  For example, if a person with uncontrolled diabetes gets told that their kidneys are not clearing wastes like they should (via blood and urine tests), and they wise up and get their blood sugars under control, they cant slow down and even halt their progression toward dialysis, but they wont actually improve their kidney function.  What you can do to keep all your organs working normally is avoid binge drinking and excessive alcohol intake(liver  ), lose weight if you are overweight(kidney and liver), control your blood pressure (kidney), control your blood glucose (kidney), dont engage in drug abuse/share needles (liver and kidney), be careful of what and how much medication you are taking (liver and kidney), and try not to get poisoned or hit by a bus (well, thats bad for all of you I think).

As far as the different herb listed here, is there any evidence for the use of these or any harm?

1) Ginkgo Biloba (note the correct spelling)--the larger the studies get, the less evidence they find. (Link).  This herb also increases your risk of bruising and bleeding.

2) Ginseng--This herb has been the butt of so many jokes I find it hard to believe that people think this actually does anything, but once again, no memory helpers here (Link).  Some people also get insomnia from this herb, and poor sleep will not likely help your memory.  I am also amused that ginseng is thought to enhance male sexual function because the root looks like a male organ; interesting that carrots, cucumbers, bananas, etc do not carry the same claim.

3) Cocoa--there is some evidence pointing to the cardiovascular benefits of cocoa, but it is mostly observational (Link).  Could it hurt?  Yeah, if you are eating products that are more sugar than cocoa and gain a bunch of weight (you know who you are!).  You can eat the 70% or higher chocolate, try not to eat the whole bar at once (even if it is fair trade), or use the internet to find a multitude of low sugar ways to work it in (including savory chili recipes).

4) Garlic--kind of in the same boat as cocoa here (Link).  Some folks do get side effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and general stinkyness when they take the powders, and you need to make sure that it does not interact with any other medication you might be taking.  I was also fascinated to find out that the use of garlic paste for fungal skin infections could result in a burn.

5) Mullein--sorry asthma sufferers, no good evidence here.  Might also cause bleeding (Link)

6) Yarrow--not sure why the arrow appears to be pointing to the lungs, having it point to the stomach or uterus would have made more sense.  Too bad it will not help with those cramps though. (Link)

7) Milk thistle--has some promise for reducing death in people who have cirrhosis, but we need better studies.  Overall safe unless you are allergic to related plants like daisies (Link).

8) Dandelion--see above as far as not being able to help your liver perform better.  Tastes really good in a salad, though some people might not like the bitter taste.

9) Chamomile--not enough evidence say it helps tummy trouble, but if you want something non-caffeinated, go ahead.

10) Licorice--this one might help GERD, but only when combined with certain other herbs ( Link).  Can cause severly elevated blood pressure when used chronically though.

11) Ginger--not sure why this is pointing at the kidneys, probably meant to point to the stomach.  And we did this before.

12) Bilberry--once more, I think we were pointing to the wrong organ.  Maybe they were trying to point to the pancreas as you often see this herb and diabetes mentioned together.  Too bad there is no good evidence for that either. (Link)

Stay tuned to cover the other side!


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