BioChemistry, Nutrition

Understanding Herbs

Plants that possess medicinal healing properties are referred to as herbs. Herbs have been used for centuries for their healing and health benefits. Many herbs have multiple healing properties and have been used to treat many health conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, asthma and hypertension.  Herbs have also been used to treat arthritis, skin conditions, impotence, hair loss, the common cold, sore throat, or to help slow the aging process. Athletes have used herbs to treat injuries, ranging from sprains and inflammation to bruising and pain. There are many traditional herbalists whom advocate that herbs can cure any ailment without the use of modern medicine.

In addition to the healing properties of herbs, there are many health and maintenance benefits that herbs may offer. Many herbs have similar health benefits to those of vitamins and minerals.  Some herbs are known for their adaptogen properties.  An adaptogen is a substance that can increase the body’s natural immune response to adverse physical and environmental conditions and can be taken daily without adverse side effects. Some herbs have been used to reduce stress and insomnia, increase memory retention, boost the immune system, aid in digestion, and regulate hormone production. 

Besides the many health and healing benefits of herbs, athletes and bodybuilders have supplemented with herbs to enhance performance, gain energy, increase stamina, and improve strength. Some herbs should be avoided prior to competition, because many athletic governing bodies have banned specific herbs from athletic events due to reported health risks or the unfair advantages that specific herbs may provide.

Herbs are used for many different reasons. The most common of which are, health maintenance, weight loss, healing, injury recovery, and performance enhancement. Current herbal research has lead to the isolation of herbal compounds in their purest forms.  However, traditional herbalists believe that herbal plants, in their natural state, are more effective and safer than isolated laboratory produced forms. It is believed that herbs in their natural state possess many compounds that should not be extracted. Compounds that may enhance the beneficial effects, as well as, counteract any negative side effects. As with pharmaceuticals, anyone taking herbs should use care and caution. Some herbs may have a negative or counter effect when combined with medications or other herbs.  Prolonged use of some herbs may have adverse effects. Some herbs are toxic and should not be ingested or inhaled. As a general rule, herbs that have a bitter flavor are typically used for medicinal purposes and herbs that taste pleasant are typically not known to be toxic. Nonetheless, it is advised that anyone taking an herb for more than three months should consult professional advice before continued use. 

Various anatomical parts of a plant (fruits, seeds, stems, roots, bark, leaves or flowers) are used to make different forms of treatments that offer many health, healing or performance benefits. The roots and bark of many herbs have fungicidal and bactericidal properties. Herbs may be consumed in varying forms ranging from supplements, concentrated liquids, powders and extracts to teas and potions.  Some herbs may be absorbed into the body in the form of a topical lotion, tincture, compress, poultice, oil or ointment. The most common and convenient use of herbs is to make a tea or potion by steeping the herbs in boiling water.  Herbs are most potent when fresh, but some may remain potent for years when properly dried and stored. For additional information of the varying forms of herbal treatment, see the Dietary Sources section.


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