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Herbal Medicine Taken on Faith?

About two-thirds of people taking herbal supplements to
treat a health condition don't check scientific guidelines, say University of
Iowa researchers.

"Physicians, pharmacists, and other health professionals should
proactively educate consumers and advocate for public health policies that
would disseminate evidence-based information regarding the appropriate use of
herbs," says researcher Aditya Bardia, MD, in a University of Iowa news
release.

Bardia and colleagues reviewed data from a 2002 national health survey of
more than 30,000 U.S. adults.

In the survey, more than 3,300 adults said they had taken herbs to treat a
specific health condition.

The researchers focused on 609 people who reported treating a specific
health condition with any of the following 10 herbal supplements: echinacea,
ginseng, garlic, St. John's Wort, soy, or kava kava.

Bardia's team checked to see if there was scientific evidence supporting the
use of those herbal supplements for the participants' health conditions.

Overall, about 55% of the participants used herbal supplements backed by
scientific evidence for their condition.

However, the percentage of participants using herbal supplements in
accordance with scientific evidence ranged from 68% for echinacea to 3% for
ginseng.

Apart from echinacea and ginseng, about one-third of the participants used
herbal supplements based on scientific evidence, the study shows.

Part of the problem may be that many patients and doctors don't talk about
herbal supplements. That should change, note Bardia and colleagues.

Their report appears in the May edition of the journal Mayo Clinic
Proceedings
.

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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