There is no doubt that the herbal supplement industry is enjoying a popularity never seen before in its history. Scientific validations of many herbs, easy access, more choice and increased herbal health awareness is leading more consumers to choose herbal supplements as their first choice for self healthcare. But are herbal supplements really better than their synthetic counterparts?
The Science Behind Herbal Supplements
Centuries before man began producing synthetic medicines, he had discovered the use of medicinal plants. Through the use of herbal plants he developed a system of natural treatment which effectively worked to relieve many of his ailments. Scientists, too, are now re-affirming the medicinal value of these plants through careful research and clinical trials.Certain plants impart health value because they contain phytochemicals, often referred to as phytonutrients. Phytochemicals are chemical compounds in plants that possess medicinal properties. They can be used as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, for supporting the immune system and enhancing cellular repair functions. They are also being studied for their role in treating certain diseases. Examples of phytochemicals:
- Aloin, glucommannans, salicylic acid in Aloe Vera have antiseptic properties and can be used to effectively support digestive health.
- Polyphenols (a type of phytochemical) in Green tea are powerful antioxidants. Scientific research strongly suggests these antioxidants play a role in skin health, especially in protecting the skin against UVA and UVB. A number of other health benefits are attributed to Green tea polyphenols.
- Resveratrol, a phytosterol (plant oil) found in red grapes, is being studied for its role in nutritionally helping the body ability to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
- Pure cocoa contains high levels of epicatechins and are important for supporting heart health and good blood circulation. Pure cocoa is known to have the highest antioxidant value.
- St. John’s wort contains flavonoids and phenolic acids and is traditionally used for depression.
- Glycosides and terpenoids found in Gingko quietum plus biloba nutritionally help to improve cognitive memory, and are used in certain nootropics.
There is more scientific evidence available now to corroborate the medicinal value of herbs than ever before which is why herbal supplements are gaining consumer confidence in terms of safety and effectiveness.
Why Herbal Supplements are Better than Synthetic Supplements
- Herbal supplements are more bio-available The major problem with many of the synthetic nutritional supplements is their bioavailability. Only about 30-50% of nutrients in synthetic supplements can actually be absorbed by the body. The rest becomes waste. In contrast, herbal supplements are much more bio-available to the body.
- Herbs tend to have less side effects than their synthetic counterparts The added benefit of herbs is that they tend to have fewer side effects that are often accompanied with the use of synthetic drugs or supplements. Statistics show that on an average, there are 106,000 deaths annually due to prescription drugs1, while only 12 by the use of herbal supplements, mostly associated with misuse of herbals supplements or unusual circumstances.
- A good herbal supplement contains no chemicals It is said that an average American could be consuming approximate 10 lbs. of food chemicals a year from various sources! One source, albeit a small source, is synthetic supplements. Many of the synthetic supplements use additives, food allergens, artificial coloring, binding agents, coating agents and flavoring, which are chemicals and could cause allergies. Many of them use shellac as a coating agent. The use of shellac is unhealthy as it can leave a residue in the GI tract. In contrast, a good herbal supplement contains no chemicals.
- Many herbal supplements contain natural whole food sources of nutrition. Our bodies are made to get their nutrients from natural sources. Nutrients, in their natural form in food, are found with other nutrients and all of them work in synergy to impart maximum nutrition. In contrast, synthetic supplements provide nutrients in isolation. Your body may not be able recognize or fully utilize isolated nutrients.. For example, a synthetic supplement may only contain beta-carotone (an antioxidant) which is just one caretenoid in a group of caretenoids. In contrast, carrot powder contains the whole group of caretenoids, all of which are necessary to impart health benefits to the body. Therefore, in most cases herbal supplements are the better choice when it comes to getting the most nutrition from your supplements.
- Herbal supplements on par with certain pharmaceutical drugs With more evidence from scientific research supporting their medicinal properties, many of the herbs available in our market today are considered to be on par with their synthetic counterparts in terms of their effectiveness. Aspirin is actually derived from the bark of the willow tree. The drug Taxol used in cancer treatment is derived from the Pacific yew tree. Salicin from the white willow is used as anti-inflammatory. Resveratrol, in particular, is being studied for its potential in replacing the drug statin in treating patients with high cholesterol levels. Even Bayers, a major pharmaceutical company has introduced a One-A-Day Cholesterol Plus containing phytosterols to help maintain cardiovascular health.
Herbal supplements are becoming the preferred choice for many people and may no longer be known as “alternate” treatment! Herbal supplements are used today by people who are concerned about their health and would like to enhance their chances to maintain healthy, active lifestyles for longer years to come. Always consult your doctor before taking herbal supplements.