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Patients often come to the clinic asking our opinion about this or that supplement so I've decided to write this piece which hopefully can answer some of the questions.
The first thing to realize is that the supplement industry is an unregulated market. There is no one out there to make sure that what you are told is true. As a result, some of the manufacturers' statements defy all natural laws. You have to have a solid understanding of human physiology and disease mechanisms to parse through all of the claims being made. Claims which, upon closer scrutiny, often do not hold up.
As soon as an herb becomes popular, it will show up in a supplement and people, having heard of the herb, will take anything that contains it. But herbs are pharmacological agents, just having it in a formula isn't enough. Take an example of Milk Thistle, a popular herb in Liver supplements. Milk Thistle has to be bought in a seed form and grounded just before use with all of the unused ground parts frozen. Otherwise it loses its potency. Thus, everyone out there taking Milk Thistle as part of commercially produced capsule or powder is taking pharmacologically inert Milk Thistle. In other words, it doesn't do anything for you.
Herbs have various actions depending on the nature of the herb or other constituents with which an herb is combined. Almost every week we see someone taking dandelion root because "it's good for your liver". And yet majority of these people have weak Livers. Few of them know that dandelion root is a detoxifying, draining, and cooling herb which should only be taken when your Liver is hyperactive. Thus, most of the people with weak Livers who take dandelion root are harming themselves. Just because something detoxifies the Liver doesn't mean it's good for you.
Which brings us to a favorite Maui subject - cleansing. Sometimes it seems that everyone is cleansing something: parasites, colons, kidneys, livers. It is important to know that cleansing is always a stress on an organ, it should be done only when that organ is either hyperactive or when a toxic agent has been ingested and even then only for a short period of time. Cleansing a weak organ will weaken it even further. Getting repeated colonics to "flush out old fecal matter that's been there for a long time" does not make any sense! Your colon is a living, breathing organ. If anything is stuck there for more than a few days, inflammation and infection set in. Your tissue will either purge a foreign object or encapsulate it creating an abscess. It is physiologically impossible to have anything there for more than a few days without ending up with a colon ulcer.
The same goes for ingesting olive oil and lemon juice to "purge gallstones". Our bile ducts, through which any gallstone must pass, are quite narrow. Thus, what people pass after their "Liver cleanse" is a mixture of bile sludge from the gallbladder, olive oil, and pancreatic juices. A gallstone of that size would get stuck in a bile duct and land you in an ER with pains that even opiates can't touch. Therefore, be careful with olive oil cleanses. If you do have gallstones and they get dislodged during the process, you will have serious problems. There are herbs that help dissolve gallstones but they have a gentler, gradual action through the digestive and vascular systems.
In conclusion, most of the ailments we suffer from can be fixed through proper diet, adequate exercise, and herbal regiment prescribed by a professional herbalist. Do not go for herbal supplements without fully understanding what or why you are taking. More often than not it's about taking something away that no longer serves you, rather than adding more stuff in.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.