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Nearly One in Five Americans Uses Herbs for Health Conditions or Promotion
A study examining patterns of herbal therapy use among adults in the United States and the factors associated with herbal therapy use found that almost 20% of adults use herbs for health treatment or promotion. More than half did not report this use to a conventional medical professional.
To conduct the study, the researchers examined the use of natural herbs from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). They then analyzed factors associated with herb use and reasons for herb use with logistic regression.
They found that factors associated with herb use included: age (45-64 years old), being uninsured, being female, having a higher education, living in the West, using prescription medications or over-the-counter (OTC) medications, and identifying oneself as "non-Hispanic other." Factors associated with no herb use include being non-Hispanic black and living in the South or Midwest.
Seventy-two percent of those who used herbs used prescription medications, and 84% of those who used herbs also used an OTC medication in the past 12 months. Among adults who used herbs, the most commonly mentioned were echinacea (41%), ginseng (25%), ginkgo (22%), and garlic (20%). The most frequent conditions for herb use were head or chest cold (30%), musculoskeletal conditions (16%), and stomach or intestinal illness (11%). Among those who used herbs in the prior year, the factors associated with using herbs because conventional medical treatments were too expensive included being uninsured, having poor health, and being 25-44 years old.
For more information on this study, see the March/April issue of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.
Iowa Center to Study Botanicals Used in Dietary Supplements
The Office of Dietary Supplements, a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has announced a grant to Iowa State University (ISU) in Ames to study botanicals used as ingredients in dietary supplements. A multidisciplinary research team will study hypericum (St. John's wort), prunella (Self-heal), and several types of echinacea (such as purple coneflower) for their antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
The center will be headed by Diane Birt, PhD, Distinguished Professor at ISU, and will bring together researchers from ISU, the University of Iowa in Iowa City, and Yale University in New Haven, CT. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at NIH will co-fund the center.
NIH currently funds six dietary supplement research centers focused on botanicals. Scientists at these centers emphasize basic and preclinical research of potential benefit to human health. Studies at ISU will focus on identifying compounds and chemical profiles for antiviral and anti-inflammatory activities and complement research at other centers that are studying botanicals and inflammation. In recent years, inflammation has been identified as a common denominator of a number of chronic diseases, such as heart disease.
Study Detects Substantial Number of Potential Herb/Drug Interactions
A recent study found a substantial number of potential adverse interactions in patients taking herbal medicines along with prescription medications. The researchers also observed a small number of adverse herb-drug interactions. Screening for herbal medicine usage, however, did not uncover any serious adverse interactions with prescription medications.
The study, which appeared in the March/April issue of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, looked at the incidence of potential and observed adverse herb-drug interactions in patients using herbal medicines with prescription medications.
The researchers questioned consecutive patients in six outpatient clinics about their use of herbal medicines. Patients reporting use of these products provided a list of their prescription medications, which were reviewed for any potential adverse herb-drug interactions using a comprehensive natural medicine database. Any potential adverse herb-drug interactions prompted a review of the patient's chart for evidence of an observed adverse herb-drug interaction.
Of the 804 patients surveyed, 122 (15%) used herbal medicines. Eighty-five potential adverse herb-drug interactions were found in 49 patients (40% of users). The researchers also observed 12 possible adverse herb-drug interactions in eight patients (7% of users). In all 12 cases, the severity scores were rated as mild, including eight cases of hypoglycemia in diabetics taking prickly pear cactus.