Herbs at a Glance

Dietary supplements

Dietary supplements (Photo credit: Andrei Z)


Excerpted from the National Center for Complementary &Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Publication Herbs at a glance: A quick guide to herbal substances, 2010.

In the United States, nearly 1 in 5 adults—or over 38 million people—reported using a natural product, such as herbs, for health purposes in a 2007 survey. Among the top 10 natural products used were several botanicals covered in this booklet: echinacea, flaxseed, ginseng, ginkgo, and garlic.

People have used herbs as medicine since ancient times. For example, aloe vera’s use can be traced back to early Egypt, where the plant was depicted on stone carvings. Known as the “plant of immortality,” it was presented as a burial gift to deceased pharaohs. Lavender, native to the Mediterranean region, was used in ancient Egypt as part of the process for mummifying bodies. Chasteberry, the fruit of the chaste tree, has long been used by women to ease menstrual problems and to stimulate the production of breast milk. Cat’s claw, which grows wild in Central and South America, especially in the Amazon rainforest, has been used for centuries to prevent and treat disease. Hoodia, a flowering, cactus-like plant native to the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, has been used by the Kalahari Bushmen to reduce hunger and thirst during long hunts.

Herbs still play a part in the health practices of many countries and cultures. Ayurvedic medicine, which originated in India, uses herbs, plants, oils, common spices(such as ginger and turmeric), and other naturally occurring substances. Traditional Chinese medicine uses herbs such as astragalus, bitter orange, and ginkgo for various health conditions. Herbs are also an important part of Native American healing traditions. Dandelion and goldenseal are examples of herbs used by Native Americans for different health conditions.

NCCAM’s Research on Herbs

While millions of Americans use herbal supplements, much remains to be learned about their safety and effectiveness. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health is the Federal Government’s lead agency for studying all types of complementary and alternative medicine, including herbal supplements. This research covers a wide range of studies—from laboratory-based research studying how herbs might affect the body, to large clinical trials testing their use in people, such as studying ginkgo’s effects on memory in older adults, or whether St. John’s wort may help people with minor depression. Exploring how and why botanicals act in the body is an important step in evaluating their safety and effectiveness.

A word about safety

Although herbs have been used for thousands of years as natural medicines, natural does not always mean safe. Herbs can act in your body in ways similar to prescription drugs, and herbs may have side effects. They may also affect how your body responds to prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicines you take—possibly decreasing or increasing their effects.

How are herbal supplements regulated?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates herbal and other dietary supplements differently from conventional medicines. The standards of safety and effectiveness that prescription and over-the-counter medicines have to meet before they are marketed do not apply to supplements. The standards for supplements are found in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), a Federal law that defines dietary supplements and sets product-labeling standards and health claim limits. To learn more about DSHEA, visit the FDA Web site at www.fda.gov/RegulatoryInformation/Legislation/ .

Use Caution

If you are considering or using an herbal supplement, think about these points:

• Some herbal supplements are known to interact with medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter). For example, St. John’s wort can interact with birth control pills.

• Research has shown that what’s listed on the label of an herbal supplement may not be what’s in the bottle. You may be getting less—or more—of an ingredient than the label indicates, even if it uses the word “standardized” or “certified.” Many factors, including manufacturing and storage methods, can affect the contents of an herbal product.

• Some herbal supplements have been found to be contaminated with metals, unlabeled prescription drugs, microorganisms, or other substances.

• If you use herbal supplements, it is best to do so under the guidance of a medical professional who has been properly trained in herbal medicine. This is especially important for herbs that are part of a whole medical system, such as traditional Chinese medicine or Ayurvedic medicine.

• Women who are pregnant or nursing should be especially cautious about using herbal supplements. This caution also applies to giving children herbal supplements.

Talk to Your Health Care Providers

Be an informed consumer. Tell all of your health care providers about any herbs or supplements you are using or considering. Your health care providers need a full picture of everything you do to manage your health, including all complementary and alternative medicine practices. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. It is especially important if you are taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications that could interact with an herbal supplement.

If you would like the full text of this publication, it is in the public domain and available at no cost at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/herbsataglance.htm

If you would like to read this entire booklet and receive one hour of continuing education credit, visit Professional Development Resources at https://pdresources.org/course/index/1/1097/Alternative-Therapies-Herbs-I-What-Every-Clinician-Should-Know


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Latest Alzheimer’s Research Progress Report Released

2010 Alzheimer’s Disease Progress Report: A Deeper Understanding2010 Alzheimer’s Disease Progress Report: A Deeper Understanding, the latest annual Alzheimer’s research report from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is now available online. Prepared by the National Institute on Aging, which leads the NIH effort conducting and supporting research on age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, the report highlights important developments and directions in NIH-funded research, including:

  • risk for developing Alzheimer’s
  • genes that play a role in the disease
  • neuroimaging and biomarkers that detect and track the disease
  • research into new treatments
  • lifestyle factors that may worsen or protect against the disease
  • help for caregivers

Special features include animation showing the progression of Alzheimer’s in the brain and video interviews highlighting new insights into the disease.

Read online or download @ http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/2010-alzheimers-disease-progress-report-deeper-understanding.

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Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Day

Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Day is observed annually on October 24. It is part of an effort designed to increase public awareness of the progress, promise, and benefits of acupuncture and Oriental medicine.

Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine DayAn estimated 36% of U.S. adults use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), according to a survey by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health. When megavitamin therapy and prayer specifically for health reasons is included in the definition of CAM, the number of U.S. adults using some form of CAM in the past year rises to 62%. Among the common CAM practices identified by the survey were acupuncture, acupressure, herbal medicine, tai chi and qi gong.

A survey by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine found that approximately one in ten adults had received acupuncture at least one time and 60% said they would readily consider acupuncture as a potential treatment option. Nearly half (48%) of the individuals surveyed who had received acupuncture reported that they were extremely satisfied or very satisfied with their treatment. In addition, one in five (21%) of the total NCCAOM survey respondents reported that they had utilized some other form of Oriental medicine besides acupuncture, such as herbs or bodywork (e.g., shiatsu).

These studies and others like them clearly demonstrate that CAM therapies such as acupuncture and Oriental medicine are common practice in today’s health care system. They also support the need for consumers to be provided accurate and reliable information regarding their treatment options. Source: http://www.aomday.org/

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End of Life: Helping with Comfort and Care

At the end of life, each story is different. Death comes suddenly, or a person lingers, gradually failing. For some older people, the body weakens while the mind stays alert. Others remain physically strong, and cognitive losses take a huge toll. But for everyone, death is inevitable, and each loss is personally felt by those close to the one who has died.

End-of-life care is the term used to describe the support and medical care given during the time surrounding death. Such care does not happen just in the moments before breathing finally stops and a heart ceases to beat. An older person is often living, and dying, with one or more chronic illnesses and needs a lot of care for days, weeks, and sometimes even months.

End of LIfe - Online CE Course

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End of Life: Helping With Comfort and Care, a 1-hour continuing education course for healthcare professionals, hopes to make the unfamiliar territory of death slightly more comfortable for everyone involved. This publication is based on research, such as that supported by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health. This research base is augmented with suggestions from practitioners with expertise in helping individuals and families through this difficult time. Throughout the booklet, the terms comfort care, supportive care, and palliative care are used to describe individualized care that can provide a dying person the best quality of life until the end. Most of the stories in this booklet are fictitious, but they depict situations that reflect common experiences at the end of life.

When a doctor says something like, “I’m afraid the news is not good. There are no other treatments for us to try. I’m sorry,” it may close the door to the possibility of a cure, but it does not end the need for medical support. Nor does it end the involvement of family and friends. There are many places and a variety of ways to provide care for an older person who is dying. Such care often involves a team. If you are reading this, then you might be part of such a team.

Helping With Comfort and Care provides an overview of issues commonly facing people caring for someone nearing the end of life. It can help you to work with health care providers to complement their medical and caregiving efforts. The booklet does not replace the personal and specific advice of the doctor, but it can help you make sense of what is happening and give you a framework for making care decisions.

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Using Structural MRI to Map the Functional Anatomy of Language and Reading

Free Video Resource from the NIH

Using structural MRI to map the functional anatomy of language and reading [electronic resource] / Cathy Price.

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Dr. Price’s research program aims to establish a functional anatomical model of language that predicts how speech and reading are lost and recovered following neurological damage or developmental delay. The hypothesis is that there are multiple ways that the brain can perform each language task (degeneracy). If this is true, then the effect of damage or developmental delay will depend on whether there is a surviving system available to sustain the task.

To dissociate the neuronal systems for the same task, they use structural and functional MRI of subjects who vary in their cognitive abilities, demographics and neurological status. This allows them to characterize individual variability in the neuronal networks of neurologically normal populations and to examine how brain damage affects cognitive abilities in patient populations. In particular, Dr. Price’s lab aims to determine how the impact of damage to one system depends on the integrity of another.

The language tasks they use are designed to tap various aspects of reading, speech perception, speech production and language control (e.g. in bilinguals). Their studies typically compare the neuronal networks for verbal stimuli to those involved in perceptual, conceptual or motor processing of non-verbal stimuli such as music, environmental sounds, numerals and pictures of objects.

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Alternative Therapies: Herbs I (What Every Clinician Should Know)

Alternative Therapies: Herbs I (What Every Clinician Should Know)

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This new CE course provides a very brief introduction to the use of herbal remedies, based on a publication from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Herbs at a Glance – A Quick Guide to Herbal Supplements (2010, 55 pages). In this course, clinicians will learn about the historical use of herbal medicine, the beneficial effects and potential dangers of commonly used herbs, and the scientific evidence for their effectiveness. Completion of this course does not provide sufficient education for prescribing herbs professionally; however, any clinician may provide self-help and educational materials to clients. Course #10-43 | 7 posttest questions

This is a web-based course requiring an internet connection to access the online reading materials. Course instructions provide a direct link to the public-access online document.
1 hour CE for only $9!

Learning Objectives:

1. Identify the historical use of herbal medicine
2. Describe the regulation of herbal supplements in the United States
3. List cautions associated with the use of herbs, including interactions with medicines

4. Identify over 40 commonly used herbs and their uses

About the Author(s):

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), National Institutes of Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, Maryland 20892. http://nccam.nih.gov/

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