Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Herbs that Heal What?

The other day a friend was complaining about being bored with Facebook.  I haven't reached that point yet, since it still provides me with plenty of fodder for a blog, like this:

In the interest of time and space, I will only cover what is mentioned on the graphic, even though I have heard of other attributes of these herbs.

1) Dill and killing "harmful intestinal bacteria."  I was actually able to locate a few small studies that indicated the essential oils of several herbs were actually able to break down the cell  membranes of salmonella, etc.  (Link) The caveats, however, are a) that these oils were applied to bacteria in a petri dish, not in a human body, b) the oils were applied in a particular concentration which likely including more than what I would use to season my salmon, c) when this particular herb is taken in capsule/tea form (aka. at therapeutic concentrations) it might actually interfere with anti-biotics (Link).  Moral of the story--if you are taking antibiotics do not use dill in high concentrations (using it as a seasoning should still be ok).  If  you suspect you do have e. coli or salmonella see a health care provider ASAP, and until we know more about the appropriate concentrations of essential oils to break down cell membranes, cleaning countertops and cutting boards with a bleach solution is your best bet.

2) Parsley as a diuretic?  There are some limited studies that parsley does actually have diuretic properties. (Link).  The problem, however, is that if your heart function and/or kidney function has deteriorated to the point that you are actually retaining water, you have more problems that just feeling a little bloated.  Also, listing something as a "powerful diurectic" is not a good thing--you can wind up with severe electrolyte imbalances which could actually lead to dehydration and shock.  When people with heart failure and kidney disease are prescribed diurect they need to have regular lab work to make sure that they are not having imbalances, and chances are people self-medicating with "herbal" diuretics are not getting the same lab work done.  Moral of the story--if you are having trouble with mild fluid retention and you know it's because you had a processed food binge (i.e. your sodium and processed carb intake went way up), then go back to eating and drinking in your usual healthy way and it will resolve on it's own.  If you have fluid retention and are experiencing shortness of breath, call your physician at once.  If you have known heart failure and your weight increases by more than three pounds in a day or two, call your doctor at once.

3) Cayenne fighting congestion?  There is some evidence that cayenne might fight the type of inflammation that causes arthritic and nerve pain, particularly if you are a rat living in a lab (Link).  But this isn't the same type of inflammation that you have when your sinuses are clogged up from a cold or allergies.  So why does our "nose run" whenever we eat hot food (i.e. Why is there so much anecdotal evidence for "hot/spicy foods" clearing congestion?).    In short, whenever you eat something hot, the active ingredient in cayenne (capsaicin) binds to the pain receptors in the nose, mouth, and skin.  Your body wants to get rid of the irritating agent, so the mucus glands in your nose start working overtime to clear out the offending substance. (More details here from the Food Explainer!).  Moral of the story--if you are congested eating something spiced with cayenne can provide you with temporary relief from congestion, but not for the reasons listed here.

4) Basil and depression?  In this case, one tiny little study was done in India to see if controlled portions of basil extract would help depression, but there was no "this will help improve your mood in three days." (Link)  Once again, I want to point out that if this did work, increased levels of dopamine are not necessarily a good thing--which is why people who take Wellbutrin for depression and Levodopa for Parkinson's need to be carefully monitored to make sure they are not having hallucinations, etc.  I know there are plenty of people who don't want to take medicines because they are worried about side effects or lining the pockets of "Big Pharma," but I don't think they want the side effects of herbal medicines or to line the pockets of charlatans either.

5) Cilantro as a way of removing heavy metals?  If you actually have mercury poisoining, you will need more than cilantro to remove it from your blood.  The only way to deal with mercury is to limit your exposure as much as you can.

6) Ginger for nausea?  Saving the best for last as there has actually been a bit more research on this one, but it depends on what it causing the nausea and what you are comparing it to.  If you have motion sickness, nausea from chemotherapy, and/or nausea after an operation, the ginger works better than a placebo.  If you have "morning sickness," however, ginger doesn't seem to be as effective.  And "better than a placebo" is not "better than motion sickness drugs," (Link)

Take home message--these herbs are tasty (in my opinion) but the only claim that has a little merit is the ginger for nausea.  If if the others did work, you probably don't want those side effects either.

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