by Nicole Berardoni M.D., Paul Lynch M.D., and Tory McJunkin M.D.
The use of complementary and alternative medicine has increased over the past decade. Western Medicine is actively finding use for alternative medicine and treatment options. A variety of studies have suggested that the use of alternative treatments is even more widespread in people with symptoms or diagnoses of anxiety and depression. In general, clinical trials suggest that diets high in calories or fat along with excessive weight are directly linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancers. Adjusting your diet to include more vegetables and fruits will help decrease these risk factors.
In addition, there are dietary supplements (ginseng, nuts, ginkgo balboa, garlic, and more) that may affect the development of certain age-related diseases and immune system functioning. The most commonly used natural products include echinacea, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, and garlic supplements (Saeed 2007). Furthermore, there are studies that suggest nutrition in childhood and as early on as the fetus stage may influence the later development of diseases and lifespan (Everitt).
In a large cross-sectional study, information was obtained on patients from a sample of long-term users of multiple dietary supplements. The study concluded that this group of people were more likely to have optimal concentrations of chronic disease-related biomarkers and less likely to have suboptimal blood nutrient concentrations, elevated blood pressure, and diabetes compared to non-users of supplemental herbs and multivitamins (Block 2007).
Although there are many products that are routinely found at health food stores and common grocery stores, some of the most common products that are supported by clinical research that may be beneficial are:
- Coenzyme Q10 – Coenzyme Q10 is a natural product found in certain cells of your body that are required to produce energy (ATP). Co-Q10 also functions as an antioxidant and is believed to increase your physical energy and decrease the aging process. Co-Q10 may also lower blood pressure and assist in weight loss.
- Echinacea – Echinacea is a flower that is used to boost the immune system and prevent upper respiratory tract infections (Zink 1998).
- Flax Seed Oil – The benefits of flax seed oil may be due to the presence of lignans within the flaxseed. Lignans have various pro- and anti-estrogenic properties. Flaxseed oil is rich in linolenic acid, which is frequently deficient in our diets. These essential fatty acids are important in our body because they maintain the integrity of cell walls and membranes. They also help in energy production and the regulation and consumption of cholesterol and triglycerides. Flax seed oil may reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, which might reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. Flax seed oil may also improve the symptoms of inflammatory conditions (eczema and psoriasis) and may reduce the risk of certain cancers.
- Garlic – Garlic is a common supplement that is extensively being studied for its cholesterol-lowering properties (Zink 1998). Garlic seems to thin the blood and lower blood pressure, which might reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack.
- Ginseng – Ginseng is a popular supplement used in the United States to decrease stress and increase cognitive function. Other situations where ginseng has been used for are athletic performance, immune system enhancer, as well as for diabetes Type II mellitus (Xie 2007).
- Ginkgo Biloba – Ginkgo biloba is made from the ginkgo tree and has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries. It may increase mental sharpness and memory (Kennedy 2005), thin blood, assist in Alzheimer’s disease, as well as having some anti-depressant effect (Kalkunte 2007).
- Glucosamine – This is a well-known and researched supplement that is a natural product within the cartilage that makes up your joints. Protective effects that are seen in people taking glucosamine supplements are improvement of osteoarthritis and joint protection (Mehta 2007).
- Kava Kava – Derived from the root of a pepper plant, kava kava is commonly used as a sleep aid, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, as well as a mood stabilizer.
- Lycopene – This product is similar to beta carotene (found in vegetables) and is known to work as an antioxidant and may be protective against cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
- Melatonin – Melatonin is a natural substance produced in your body to help maintain a normal sleep cycle. When used as a supplement, it can be used as a sleep aid and is commonly used in the recovery of jet lag.
- Milk Thistle – Milk thistle is taken by many people for protection and restoration of damaged liver tissue and to decrease bile production (Ligeret 2007).
- St. John’s Wort – St. John’s Wort is a yellow flower that has been used for centuries for a multitude of symptoms, most commonly depression (Cauffield 1999). St. John’s Wort may decrease symptoms of depression and mood disorders, increase energy levels, aid in wound healing, boost the immune system, and encourage weight loss.
Living with chronic pain is very difficult. Some supplements may complement your current treatment plan.
- Everitt AV, Hilmer SN, Brand-Miller JC, Jamieson HA, Truswell AS, Sharma AP, Mason RS, Morris BJ, Le Couteur DG. Dietary approaches that delay age-related diseases. Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(1):11-31.
- Xie JT, Wang CZ, Ni M, Wu JA, Mehendale SR, Aung HH, Foo A, Yuan CS.J American ginseng berry juice intake reduces blood glucose and body weight in ob/ob mice. Food Sci. 2007 Oct;72(8):S590-4
- Kennedy DO, Scholey AB, Wesnes KA. The dose-dependent cognitive effects of acute administration of Ginkgo biloba to healthy young volunteers. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2000 Sep;151(4):416
- Kalkunte SS, Singh AP, Chaves FC, Gianfagna TJ, Pundir VS, Jaiswal AK, Vorsa N, Sharma S. Antidepressant and antistress activity of GC-MS characterized lipophilic extracts of Ginkgo biloba leaves. Phytother Res. 2007 Jul 18;21(11):1061-1065
- Cauffield JS, Forbes HJ.Lippincotts Prim Care Pract. Dietary supplements used in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. 1999 May-Jun;3(3):290-304
- Zink T, Chaffin Herbal ‘health’ products: what family physicians need to know. J.Am Fam Physician. 1998 Oct 1;58(5):1133-40.
- Mehta K, Gala J, Bhasale S, Naik S, Modak M, Thakur H, Deo N, Miller Comparison of glucosamine sulfate and a polyherbal supplement for the relief of osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized controlled trial MJ.BMC Complement Altern Med. 2007 Oct 31;7(1):34
- Ligeret H, Brault A, Vallerand D, Haddad Y, Haddad PS. J Antioxidant and mitochondrial protective effects of silibinin in cold preservation- warm reperfusion liver injury. Ethnopharmacol. 2007 Oct 24
- Block G, Jensen CD, Norkus EP, Dalvi TB, Wong LG, McManus JF, Hudes ML Usage patterns, health, and nutritional status of long-term multiple dietary supplement users: a cross-sectional study. Nutr J. 2007 Oct 24;6(1):30 www.Supplementwatch.com