Question: I’m a big believer in natural medicine, but I can’t help but wonder about the reports that come out saying herbal supplements are useless or dangerous. They always seem to have so much clinical research behind them — how do I know what’s true?
Dr. Wright: Not necessarily. I checked in with my friend and regular “Nutrition & Healing” columnist Kerry Bone to get his take on all the negative hype on herbal supplements. Here’s what Kerry had to say:
Kerry Bone: The media has been on a search-and-destroy mission lately for any natural substance that threatens to actually help people feel better at a fraction of the cost (not to mention risk) of prescription drugs.
But here’s a secret the health reporter on the six o’clock news isn’t going to tell you: Most of those clinical studies "implicating" herbal extracts as dangerous substances are completely worthless. That’s because most of them are in vitro studies, meaning that the substances are combined in test tubes.
The phytochemicals in the extract are very strong, and they’re applied to and absorbed directly by the cells exposed to them in the test tube. But what happens in the body when someone takes an herb orally is quite different: Some of those phytochemicals are absorbed, but most of them are too large to "squeeze through" the intestinal barrier. Others are broken down by stomach acid or your bowel flora. Those are all factors you just can’t duplicate in test tubes.
The bottom line here is that test tube research on herbal extracts is fraught with difficulties. Basically, just be sure to get all the facts before buying into any of the hype — positive or negative.
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