You are hereGood News About Herbal Medicines: Some Really Work!

Good News About Herbal Medicines: Some Really Work!

By harrisjensen - Posted on 22 May 2008

Reviews in medical journals find some winners, some losers

Reliable studies hard to find, but the Good Day Journal has found them for you!  Saving you time and money!

Key Words: depression, anxiety, dementia, memory, herbal remedies, St John’s Wort, caffeine


by Harris Jensen, MD

Editor, Good Day Journal


You hear it all the time.  “Try my new remedy!  It really works!  It’s natural!”

Truth or slick sales job, these ads land on tv late at night, when its my turn to feed my two month old son, and of course they are all over grocery store tabloids.  (OK, I’ve been known to read some of them too.)

In my training, I was told no herbal medication really works.  They are all examples of “quackery.”

Well, the problem with that is...there was no evidence for that opinion!  That kind of wholesale “writing off” all herbal remedies is not practicing good medicine.

The reality is...quite interesting!

Some remedies do work!  In fact, one company in China is spending millions of dollars trying to find more remedies and isolate the active components of remedies that have been found to work.

The impact of some remedies is something big companies are willing to invest millions of dollars in...hey those herbal doctors are onto something!

But only a few herbal remedies have “cut the mustard” (pun intended) and found to make more of a difference compared to a sugar pill.  Why is that a big deal?  For many maladies affecting brain and the rest of the body, about 20-30% of people will report medical problems improving after taking just a sugar pill!  This is the great “placebo effect.”

The problem with the placebo effect is, with some herbal remedies, you are paying good money--and sometimes alot of money--to get what a sugar pill would give you.  Some herbals cost 50 or 100 dollars per month!  Not cheap.

So it really pays to be able to think about herbal remedies and your health.

False claims are everywhere.  

Let the buyer beware!

Here are some articles so you can be better informed, save money, make smarter choices...

 A risk and benefit profile of herbal remedies. (1)

In this great, no nonsense article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the following herbals were found to have evidence of being able to do what people claim they can do:


can have some effect on dementia and intermittent claudication.  I have had about ten people try this through the past ten years, it didn’t help anyone but the people who were selling it!  The studies show it can make a small difference, however, with some people and their memory.

St. John's Wort...

can help mild depression.  I’ve tried it with about five patients.  It didn’t cause sexual side effects or weight gain...and it didn’t cause the depression to get better in even one case!  I don’t rely on this medication.  I regard it as weak and ineffective for many people, with some exceptions.  But people will disagree with me and perhaps it is the right medication for some people.

Saw palmetto...

can help benign enlargment of the prostate.  I have known of one person to use this, and it helped.


can help mild upper respiratory tract infections.  I have this plant blooming in front of the office.  It is called the purple coneflower, a native of the American prairie, and Sioux and other native americans dug up its gray and black striped roots and boiled them for a medicinal tea.  It really works!  It is high in tannic acid so it tastes quite bitter.  I have chewed on the raw root and I’m here to tell you it tastes bad!  But it makes your mouth dry and numbs the gums...which is why native americans used it for tooth aches.  Nice to know it helps fight respiratory infections.  My sister was harrassed for years by recurrent sinus infections until using a tea of echinacea each time a sinuf infection hit and it seemed to help the healing process.

Kava kava...

can reduce anxiety...but it can also kill your liver so don’t use it!  I have had one patient use it in ten years and benefit from it.  He got it from a country in the Caribbean and it had to be fresh.  He replaced it with ativan or lorazepam, which I prescribed, because it was safer.  Ativan can’t kill your liver.

And all these herbals can cause side effects, which are reviewed in the article.

St. John's Wort...

can interact with prescribed antidepressants and make one psychotic or even have serotonin syndrome, which can kill people.  I have had one person combine the prescribed antidepressant zoloft with St. John’s Wort, without my knowledge, and she started having visual hallucinations...seeing large snakes writing around her legs.  She later became bipolar.  Another patient I saw had combined paxil and St. John’s Wart and became so rageful she was out of control and police admitted her to a psychiatric hospital...again St. John’s Wort and an antidepressant lead a person to become psychotic.

In other words, St. John’s Wort combined with the wrong medication led this person to lose her mind.

Herbal medications are often not mentioned when I ask my patients about what medications or supplements they are using.  

In the included article in reference 2, it notes about one in three American’s are using herbal supplements, but they rarely mention this use to their medical doctors!  Dangerous!

Ephedra and caffeine...

Here’s two herbals that sure helped people lose weight, and ten people lost their life to them, too.  The article documenting the danger of this combination of herbal medicines is at the following reference. (2)

 Are herbal preparations popular in the US?  Absolutely!  Only 38 million people in the US use them!  These and other interesting facts are in an article in a journal with an interesting name, “Evidence based alternative and complementary medicine,”(3)

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Lots of people, including me, take these supplement tabs to help prevent achey joints.  The truth is they do help for wear and tear kinds of joint pain, because glucosamine and chondroitin are the builiding blocks that cells use to build cartilage.  These even are helpful supplements for dogs and I'm told horses as well.  Read a review at this link GOOD FOR Joints.



is a great herbal supplement.  It works by blocking the adenosine receptors.  In the brain this leads to better attention, memory, mental energy.  

Too much caffeine can cause side effects: irritability, insomnia, depression, even mania!  True!  I have had several patients with bipolar find that beyond a certain dose of caffeine, mood swings start breaking through their mood stabilizer...but a lower dose clearly helps mood and alertness.  And enhanced mood and alertness helps people “do their homework” in cognitive behavioral therapy to make a better life for themselves!


This is the most common herbal supplement used in the US...but it is not without side effects!  A cup of coffee can contain 40-120 mg of caffeine.  Many people can benefit from 40-500 mg, but there is no formula for everyone.  People are not generic!  Some people can’t handle any caffeine.  Even half a cup leads to worsening of insomnia, anxiety, even panic.

Is caffeine really a food item?  Well, it can be considered food, of course.  With that in mind, I will continue this theme with another article on what food and lifestyle items have been shown to improve brain and heart will be interesting to see what shows up when the evidence comes in from my searches in Google Scholar!

Reflecting on the above herbal remedies and their discoveries, I think it is amazing.  We humans are made of 20 some thousand genes in our DNA, about 3 billion base pairs, in  an adaptable genetic code that has allowed us to leave Africa just 150,000 years ago and colonize the world, living in every sort of imaginable climate and eating, well, eating everything imaginable as well.

And in the process we found some plants that help our bodies heal!  How wonderful and says alot about our brain’s genius.