Yesterday I talked about the herbs on the left side of this graphic:
1) Cayenne Pepper--at first I thought they meant to point to the sinuses (like I talked about here), but no, they were actually talking about the brain. While there seems to be some good evidence for using this topically, and a limited amount of evidence that says that it prevents blood sugar spikes, there is no evidence that it unclogs arteries or "cleans the blood." (1, 2). One person even claims she stopped her father's heart attack by giving him cayenne, and after that I needed to be resuscitated!
2) Kelp--I think "Kelp for Brains" might have been used as an insult on Spongebob Squarepants, and since there is no good evidence for kelp somehow helping the brain, we might want to continue using that if you are feeling childish. Kelp and other forms of seaweed do provide iodine, vitamin K, and (in my opinion) just help provide a change up from the usual vegetables. Kelp is also heralded as a good vegan source of B12, but you apparently need to eat about 10 bowls of seaweed salad to actually get enough. I like seaweed salad, but not that much. If you are vegan, enjoy your seaweed but you probably still want to take a supplement. (Link).
3) Motherwort--Apparently this herb does slow down a rapid heart rate, but we don't have enough evidence to know how to dose it. I also have a lot of patients that do take other sedating medications, and I can see them going to sleep and not waking up. I want to see more evidence that supports a dose for my weight, age, state of health, etc before taking something that would slow down my heart rate. (Link)
4) Tumeric--Tumeric has potential for preventing blood clots and lower LDL--if you are a lab rat. No human studies just yet. And don't expect it to cancel out any problems you might get from eating too much rice with your curry. (Link)
5) Yerba Santa--Apparently there is some evidence that this can help loosen up mucus for people who have chronic lung diseases. Once again, however, there isn't enough info to stay what an appropriate dose should be. (Link)
6) Peppermint--Inhaling the smell of the essential oils of peppermint might bring on a temporary relief of upper respiratory symptoms if you have a cold, and it doesn't seem to hurt or interact with anything. I have seen it advertised as "cleansing" the lungs--really, all you can do is attempt to prevent your exposure to things that cause lung problems.
7) Artichoke--apparently, people who study these things have poisoned rats and then given them artichoke extract and the rats had less liver cell injury, so no good studies in humans (probably because no one wants to get voluntarily poisoned). I kept reading about how artichoke stimulates the flow of bile--but a healthy gallbladder will produce enough bile in response to the amount of fat you eat anyway. If you have an inflamed gallbladder or "sluggish" gallbladder because of gall stones, you are pretty much headed for surgery.
8) Burdock root--I found a lot of "claims" about this cleansing the liver, and can I repeat, the liver does not need to be cleansed. If the liver is damaged, taking burdock root will not help it work better. I did actually find, however, that this root does contain inulin (a pre-biotic), so it might help promote growth of the so called "good" bacteria in the digestive system when consumed. (And since it's related to Jerusalem artichokes, it makes me wonder if it produces the same amount of flatulence.)
9) Goldenseal--Like many herbs, there were claims that this herb was helpful for, well, everything. One of the major claims, however, was that "clinical studies" showed that goldenseal helped treated various forms of diarrhea. This is not exactly true, as it is the berberine, a component of goldenseal that has been used in the studies, and the amount of berberine varies depending on the preparation of the goldenseal.
10) Fennel--I believe this is pointing to the stomach because one of the major claims is that is "stimulates digestion." You know what else stimulates digestion? That's right, eating food. If your digestive system is paralyzed, you will probably need more help than what fennel can offer. Another related claim is that fennel can prevent gas, which is why they are offered after the end of a meal in an Indian restaurant. Unfortunately, there are no good studies to show this is true, and we have to be careful not to fall into an "Argument from Ancient Wisdom Fallacy." Eating the fennel as a vegetable does actually provide you with some good fiber and potassium though, and the seeds to help freshen up your breath.
11) Cranberry--This is one of my major pet peeves, as it shows how ignorant people can be of their basic anatomy. First, go read this basic tutorial of the urinary system and you will see that the kidneys are connected to the bladder and urethra but they are not the same organ. There are some studies that point to real cranberry juice as something that can keep bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall and thereby lowering the incidence of urinary tract infections (aka bladder infections or UTIs), but that has nothing to do with it being good for the kidneys. As an aside, if you have diabetes/pre-diabetes and are prone towards UTIs, you probably want to lower your carbohydrate intake to better control your blood glucose levels rather than risk drinking a sugar-laden juice.
12) Astralagus--Apparently some have looked at a component of this herb in treating kidney disease, but there is no evidence for it. Apparently it can have a mild diuretic effect, but remember a diuretic is not something you take casually unless you want to risk an electrolyte imbalance.
Take home message--If you want your body's usual systems to work as they are supposed to, eat and live in such a way that they are not damaged in the first place (including not getting in a car accident!)