An herb found in the mustard family, shepherd's purse is sometimes taken in supplement form to stop heavy menstrual bleeding and soothe menstrual cramps. A source of several antioxidants (including a substance called fumaric acid), shepherd's purse is also said to aid in the treatment of bleeding disorders, as well as common conditions like headache.
Although a number of studies published in the 1960s and 1970s suggest that shepherd's purse may offer certain health benefits (including anti-inflammatory effects), there's currently a lack of support for the claim that this herb can treat heavy periods or provide relief of menstrual pain. For help in easing menstrual cramps, try taking herbs like ginger and vitex (both found to alleviate menstrual pain in scientific studies). There's also some evidence that loading up on omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in taming menstrual cramps.
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In some Native American tribes, an herb known as blue cohosh has long been used to improve muscle tone in the uterus and treat a variety of women's health troubles (such as menstrual cramps and PMS). But while preliminary studies suggest that blue cohosh may shield health by reducing inflammation), other research shows that taking this herb while pregnant may raise risk of birth defects.
The research on blue cohosh and birth defects includes a 2008 report from the Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, which found that using blue cohosh during pregnancy may disrupt the physiological development of the fetus. What's more, the report indicates that use of blue cohosh may be associated with increased risk of stroke and other cardiac events during delivery.
A number of other natural remedies hold promise for enhancing women's health. For instance, there's some evidence that consuming soy may slightly lower your risk of breast cancer and build stronger bones to stave off osteoporosis.
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Sometimes referred to as bishop's flower or lady's lace, an herb known as bishop's weed is often touted as a natural remedy for vitiligo. A condition marked by white patches on the skin, vitiligo is especially common among people with certain autoimmune disorders (such as Hashimoto's disease and alopecia areata).
Bishop's weed contains a compound called methoxsalen, which is classified as a psoralen (a substance shown to increases the skin's sensitivity to ultraviolet light). In a medical procedure known as PUVA therapy (which stands for "psoralen-UVA therapy"), people with skin disorders like vitiligo, eczema, and psoriasis are given methoxsalen and then exposed to ultraviolet light.
Although PUVA therapy once commonly involved the use of methoxsalen sourced from bishop's weed, today the prescription drugs used in PUVA therapy typically contain methoxsalen made in the laboratory. What's more, there's a lack of evidence to support the claim that taking bishop's weed in supplement form is effective as a vitiligo treatment.
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In a recent report from the journal Neurology, researchers have linked use of herbal incense to incidence of stroke in young adults. In their analysis of case studies of two healthy, young siblings who suffered strokes soon after smoking the recreational drug, the report's authors note that the strokes might have been related to chemicals found in herbal incense.
Increasingly popular in recent years, herbal incense contains a mixture of herbs and synthetic cannabinoids (a class of engineered chemicals similar to marijuana's main psychoactive components). Sometimes referred to as synthetic cannabis, Spice, K2, mamba, fake marijuana, or potpourri, herbal incense has been associated with a wide range of health risks, including elevated blood pressure, kidney damage, and seizures.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has placed a national ban on the sale of synthetic cannabinoids, which a recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration linked to 11,406 of the 4.9 million drug-related emergency department visits in the U.S. in 2010.
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Not just a top risk factor for major illnesses like cancer and heart disease, smoking was found to wreak havoc on sleep in one recent study. For help in kicking the habit, many smokers turn to alternative therapies such as ear acupuncture (a form of acupuncture that that involves stimulating specific points on the ear). Rooted in the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, ear acupuncture is often administered as part of a standard acupuncture session.
While studies on ear acupuncture's benefits in smoking cessation have yielded conflicting results, there's evidence that the therapy may be helpful for some smokers. In a 2004 study, for example, a survey of 126 people who had undergone ear acupuncture while attempting to quit smoking found that the treatment had a one-year success rate of 41.1 percent.
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A condition estimated to affect 18 million men in the United States, erectile dysfunction is often treated with medications such as sildenafil (a drug sold as Viagra). One natural remedy often marketed as an alternative to Viagra is Butea superba, an herb long used in traditional Thai medicine. Rich in compounds with antioxidant effects, Butea superba is also said to act as an aphrodisiac.
Although scientific support for Butea superba's health effects is fairly limited, a number of animal-based studies suggest that it may aid in the treatment of erectile dysfunction (possibly by boosting circulation). In addition, a study published in 2003 found that three months of treatment with Butea superba extract led to significant improvement in erectile function for most study members.
Several other herbs (including ginkgo and ashwagandha) also show promise in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Some research shows that L-arginine (an amino acid sold in supplement form) may help improve sexual function in men as well.
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A central principle of traditional Chinese medicine is that weather can contribute to health troubles by affecting your body's flow of vital energy. One remedy said to protect against health problems brought on by damp, windy weather is Juan Bi Tang, an herbal formula often used to soothe stiffness and pain in the joints and muscles.
Juan Bi Tang contains a variety of herbs, with most formulas including such botanicals as astragalus, dong quai, ginger, licorice, and turmeric. Although research on Juan Bi Tang potential health benefits is currently lacking, there's evidence that some of these herbs (including ginger and turmeric) may possess pain-fighting properties.
To lessen the pain of conditions like osteoarthritis and chronic low back pain, consider using such remedies as white willow bark and devil's claw (both found to alleviate pain in scientific studies).
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A type of depression that tends to strike during the winter months, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is said to impact about 10 million Americans. In traditional Chinese medicine, many individuals rely on an herbal formula known as xiao yao wan for help in enhancing mood and easing depressive symptoms. Although research on xiao yao wan's effectiveness as a SAD treatment is lacking, a number of animal-based studies indicate that xiao yao wan may offer antidepressant-like effects.
Since depression can become more severe if left untreated, it's critical to seek help from a mental-health professional if you're experiencing such symptoms as persistent sadness and irritability, fatigue, insomnia, and loss of interest in daily activities. Your doctor can also help you determine if potentially mood-boosting natural remedies (such as St. John's wort and fish oil supplements) might help alleviate SAD and other forms of depression. In addition, there's some evidence that light therapy may offer relief from SAD.
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One of the top risk factors for heart disease (the world's leading cause of death), high cholesterol can trigger the formation of plaques in your arteries and - in turn - set you up for heart attack or stroke. A species of brown algae sold in dietary supplement form, Ecklonia cava is sometimes touted as a natural solution for achieving healthy cholesterol levels. Research shows that Ecklonia cava contains compounds with antioxidant effects, which may help prevent LDL ("bad") cholesterol from forming plaques on artery walls.
While very few clinical trials have tested Ecklonia cava's health effects, one study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2012 found that 12 weeks of treatment with Ecklonia cava supplements helped improve cholesterol levels in overweight men and women. The study included 97 participants, and also found that those given a high dose of Ecklonia cava experienced a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure (the top number on a blood pressure reading).
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Often occurring as a symptom of coronary heart disease, angina is marked by chest pain resulting from a lack of blood flowing to certain regions of the heart. About 10 million Americans struggle with angina, which is often treated with medications and lifestyle changes (such as weight loss and stress management).
Certain natural remedies show promise in the treatment of angina. For example, one small study suggests that taking arjuna (an antioxidant-rich herb used in ayurveda) may help reduce angina frequency.
Other natural substances said to ease angina-related pain include hawthorn, an herb often touted as remedy for lowering blood pressure. In addition, there's some evidence that regular yoga practice may be beneficial for people with angina. However, since angina is so closely linked to heart disease, it's crucial to seek medical treatment if you experience angina symptoms (such as chest pain or discomfort accompanied with a sensation of squeezing or pressure).
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