The Science Behind Medicinal Herbs

Herbal products have hit the mainstream today yet many people may still wonder about their medicinal benefits.
There are studies about herbs in many countries and their sale is regulated in the United States and Canada.
In the U.S. the sale of herbs is regulated as dietary supplements by the Food and Drug Administration, FDA.

In Canada the sale of herbs and claim to their medicinal effectiveness is regulated through Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Regulations, which came into effect on January 1, 2004.

The Natural Health Products (NHPs) are defined as:
Vitamins and minerals
Herbal remedies
Homeopathic medicines
Traditional medicines such as traditional Chinese medicines
Other products like amino acids and essential fatty acids

These products must be safe to use as over-the-counter (OTC) products and not need a prescription to be sold.  To be licensed in Canada, natural health products must be safe, effective, of high quality and carry detailed label information to let people make safe and informed choices.

Products that have been licensed for sale in Canada are identified by an eight digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM) on the label. This tells consumers the product is safe and effective when used according to the instructions on the label.

The German Commission E is widely regarded as experts on providing solid information on the effectiveness of medicinal herbs. The German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices, Commission E is a committee made up of scientists, toxicologists, doctors, and pharmacists formed by the German government in 1978 to find out if herbs sold in Germany are safe and effective.

Herbal Monographs

A monograph is a paper on a single topic. Herbal monographs normally include nomenclature, part used, constituents, range of application, contraindications, side effects, incompatibilities with other medications, dosage, use, and action of the herb.
There can be product specific monographs, such as one on elderberry or pcynogenol (French maritime pine bark) or proprietary blends.
Some monographs include extensively researched peer reviewed studies, clinicial overviews and clinical studies.
Herbal monographs can be located through herbal associations such as the Canadian Herbalist Association and the American Botanical Council.

Scientific Studies

Several herbs have gone through rigorous clinical double blind studies to determine their effectiveness as herbal medicine. These include herbs such as elderberry, St.John’s Wort, Echinacea.
Universities or institutions have done scientific studies on herbs, however these vary depending on the herb or the institution.
Consulting with herbal associations is a good place to start. Start by getting a subscription to the Herbal Collective magazine online. Each issue has an Herb of the Month with a description of the herb’s active ingredients and contraindications, if any.

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