The increasing cost in health care and the growing difficulty in finding adequate health care coverage has attracted us to the possible medicinal benefits of herbals. Herbals have proposed benefits that are very desirable as we grow older, such as, enhanced memory, more energy, and relief for arthritis pain. Along with these proposed health claims, herbals are easily accessible and because they are advertised as “natural” they give the false security of little or no side effects. The effectiveness of herbals varies from person to person but every person should be well informed before using an herbal supplement.
The use of herbals dates back to the beginning of many cultures. In the early 1900s, the United States began regulation of herbal medicines after an incident of fraud. By 1962, any substance labeled a drug had to prove its effectiveness with controlled clinical trials, thus excluding many herbals. A rebirth of herbal use occurred during the health food era and initiated the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) passed in 1994.
Things to Know About Herbals
Herbals may have more than one active ingredient
Various research studies use different forms of an herbal, such as tablets or teas, and therefore achieve different outcomes making it difficult to attribute a particular benefit to all herbal forms. Also, herbals contain different active ingredients, which may affect their expected function, or the way in which they interact with your body.
Natural does not always mean safe or pure
Many herbals use the word “natural” as a selling point, but you should be aware that natural does not mean an herbal does not have side effects. Manufacturers of herbals do not have to prove the effectiveness of the supplement unless making a claim on the label, which creates a lack of quality control and a lack of regulation.
Things to Do When Shopping for Herbals
Read the Labels
When shopping for herbal supplements be sure to read the labels to determine if it is an appropriate herbal for you. Each herbal label should contain information about the form of the supplement, i.e., capsule or liquid, the net quantity (such as, 46 capsules), ingredients, product identity (such as, Ginseng), and the name and address of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor.
If the herbal supplement makes a structure-function claim, such as, “When you want to perform your best take ginseng” look for the statement:
This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
If this statement appears, it means that this claim has not scientifically been proven to the FDA. When considering taking herbal supplements, caution should be used because herbal supplements do not have to be tested in the same manner as drugs. This means that herbals do not have to be proven safe or effective before they are sold. There are no set standards by which herbals are produced, therefore the strength and purity of the supplement may vary.
Things to Do When Taking Herbal Supplements
Be cautious of drug interactions
Reports of drug interactions with co-administration of herbs and conventional drugs are rare, however, with varying quality, concentration of the herbal, and sensitivity of the consumer, drug interactions are a serious possibility. Be sure to inform your physician or pharmacist any time you are taking herbal supplements, preferably before you begin taking them. This would allow a professional to inform you of any possible side effects you may encounter.
|Possible Drug Interactions|
|Echinacea||Do not take with Corticosteroids or Cyclosporine||Immune stimulants like Echinacea could offset the effects of drugs that work to suppress the immune system.|
|Garlic||Do not take with anticoagulants or diabetes medication||Garlic’s active ingredients may interfere with blood sugar lowering medications and anticoagulants.|
|Ginseng||Coumadin (Warfarin)||May decrease or reverse the effectiveness of Warfarin|
|St. John’s||Alcohol, Sedatives, Sleeping Pills||May increase the effect of sedatives especially benzodiazepines|
Tips for Using Herbal Supplements
- Choose from reputable companies
- Know the ingredients and be aware of any possible side effects
- Use low doses and NOT every day
- Be cautious of drug interactions
- Take as recommended (more is not always better)
Predictors of Healthy Aging
We all have one attribute in common; we grow older every day. Although there is nothing specific we can do to stop this process, it might be possible to slow down our natural aging and eliminate some of the age-related disorders. It has been proven that we can, indeed, age gracefully. Let’s look at some of the personal characteristics of healthy people approaching 100 years of age!
Thin, daily exercisers, consuming low-calorie, high-fruit and vegetable diets, non-smokers, moderate alcohol intake, sleeps well, infrequently ill, use of preventive health services, have a positive outlook about their health.
Kept minds active before and after retirement which occurred in their 70s, learned something new each day, a passion for reading and discussing current events, often reflecting on the good things in life.
Optimistic, pleased with their lives, anger is short-lived, rarely hostile to others, cope well with stress, have a good sense of humor, many outlets for relaxation and recreation.
Frequently helping others, have successful marriages or have always been single, have many friends younger than themselves, feel support from a large social network, often attend social functions.
Have multiple spiritual commitments that provide a sense of purpose and meaning to their lives, appreciate the beauty of nature, pray and/or meditate daily.
It is never too late to set in motion positive changes in our lives. We are not guaranteed a certain amount of time on Earth, but we can surely enhance the quality of the time we are here. It only makes sense to enjoy the company of other people, to learn something new every day, to tell funny stories and enjoy a good laugh. Cultivating a personal passion after retirement and helping those less fortunate than ourselves will also add life to our years!