Top 10 Herbal Remedies, Uses, Possible Contraindications, and Side Effects

Echinacea. Commonly used to stimulate the immune system. Should not be used in patients allergic to plants in the daisy family. Patients with kidney disorders should not take for longer than 10 days. Use with caution in pregnancy or lactation.

Garlic. Commonly used as a treatment for atherosclerosis, hypertension, and immune-stimulating properties. Rare reports of allergic reactions. Those taking aspirin or anticoagulants should avoid large amounts due to potential bleeding problems. May cause heartburn, flatulence, and halitosis.

Ginkgo Biloba. Ginkgo has been shown to enhance circulatory functioning by increasing vasodilatation and peripheral blood flow rate. Used to improve memory and concentration, cerebrovascular insufficiency, heart disease, and dementia. May be of concern in patients taking anticoagulants. Can cause GI disturbances, headache, skin reactions, restlessness. Death has occurred with large doses.

Ginseng. Most commonly used to increase stamina and endurance and protect against stress induced illness. Avoid in children and in patients with hypertension, psychological imbalances, headaches, heart palpitations, insomnia, asthma, inflammation, infections with high fever, and pregnancy. May cause hypertension, euphoria, restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, skin eruptions, edema, and diarrhea. May also have an estrogen-like effect in postmenopausal women. Has an increased effect on hypoglycemics and possible toxicity with MAO inhibitors.

Hawthorn. Widely used in Europe to dilate the smooth muscles of the coronary vessels as a treatment for angina. Not useful for acute angina attacks, and may increase heart rate.

Horse Chestnut Seed Extract. Used as an astringent and anti-inflammatory on the vessels of the circulatory system. May aid the treatment of phlebitis, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids. May increase the effect of anticoagulants. May cause GI irritation. Isolated cases of renal, hepatic toxicity, and anaphylactic reactions have been reported.

Kava-Kava. Used as a local anaesthetic. The root has also been used to treat gonorrhea, vaginitis, nocturnal incontinence, and as a diuretic for treatment of gout, rheumatism, and bronchial ailments due to heart disease. Most commonly used to treat nervous anxiety, stress, and restlessness. Not recommended for treatment of depression, during pregnancy or lactation. Avoid concomitant use with alcohol, barbiturates, and CNS depressants. May cause mild GI disturbances, allergic skin reactions, or accommodative disturbances.

St. John’s Wort. Used as an antiviral, antibacterial, and antidepressant. Avoid concurrent use with SSRIs, MAO inhibitors, tyramine-containing products, alcohol, or narcotics. May cause photosensitivity, GI disturbances, fatigue, weight fluctuations, dry mouth, and dizziness. May increase digoxin effects.

Saw Palmetto. Used for its anti-inflammatory effects on the prostate. May also have beneficial effects in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, and breast enlargement in women. May cause mild GI disturbances.

Valerian. Used to treat nervous tension related to stress, insomnia, anxiety, muscle tension, and PMS. The "Valium of the 19th Century." Should not be taken during pregnancy or lactation, or with alcohol. May cause headaches, giddiness, restlessness, nausea or agitation. May increase the effects of CNS depressants.

Suggested reading

• DerMarderosin A. New Ideas in Herbal Therapy. Power-Pak Communications; 1998.

• Fetrow C., et al. Complimentary & Alternative Medicines. Springhouse Corp.; 1999.

• American Council for Pharmaceutical Education. Guidelines for Recommending Natural Supplements to Patients, Part 1.

• Muller J., et al. Top Herbal Products Encountered in Drug Information Request (Parts 1 & 2). Medscape, Drug Benefit Trends, [10(5) & 10(6)]: SCP Communications; 1998.

• Tyler V. Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals. Pharmaceutical Products Press; 1994.

Source: Alacare, Irondale, AL.