The concept of using herbs not just as seasonings on food, but also to help promote health and prevent disease, has become more popular in recent years. It is even in the national discussion about health care reform in the US which indicates what was a fringe element has now become more mainstream.
Large grocery chains in the Sacramento area like Raley’s and Safeway have significant sections devoted to “natural” or organic foods and supplies. Specialty health food stores in the area like Elliott’s, Sunrise and Sunshine Natural foods have carried a variety of herbs and supplements for years. GNC and the Vitamin Shoppe are chain stores near or in the major mall shopping centers that carry a full array of herbal supplements.
“Customers commonly enter a store looking for an herbal remedy for a given problem,” said Dr. Kyle Christensen a Chiropractor, Master Herbalist and owner of Western Botanicals. “It is important to understand the mindset of this behavior: People are looking for an herbal supplement to function like a pharmaceutical medication,” Christensen said from Utah where his wholesale herbal business moved a few years ago. According to Dr. Christensen this has spawned new words to describe the use as ‘herbal medicine and nutraceuticals.’
Dr. Christensen commented that we often make a critically wrong assumption when using either pharmaceuticals or herbs that are pitched as drug replacements: It goes something like this: “If I take this drug or herb, it will negate the poor dietary habits that almost certainly caused my health condition in the first place.” No medication or herb can do that, particularly if you don’t change your dietary habits.
According to recent research at several US universities chronic inflammation functions as the fuel that lights the fire to some disease development and progression. These studies show numerous inflammatory signaling molecules play a role in promoting disease activity, one of which is called nuclear factor kappa-B (NF-kB). Many conditions are known to be promoted by NF-kB, including arthritis, allergies, multiple sclerosis, obesity, atherosclerosis, heart attacks, cancer, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
Herbs such as ginger, garlic and turmeric are known to reduce the activity of NF-kB, which suggests they are useful in preventing and treating multiple diseases. Research supports this use of herbs. Ginger, turmeric, boswellia, and garlic are some of the most commonly supplemented herbs, and a strong body of research evidence demonstrates their anti-inflammatory abilities. They can be taken every day in a food source or in supplements.
What the research seems to be saying is the overall goal should be to create a solid anti-inflammatory foundation with proper diet and herbal support. It seems important according to the research to embrace this foundation as the approach to disease prevention and health improvement.