Health: Herbal Wonders of the World . . .; New Evidence Suggests That Herbs Will Be the 'New' Medicine of the Future, Fighting the Effects of Smoking Abuse, Cancers, Depression, Pain and Stress

Article excerpt

Herbal treatments have been around for thousands of years but - in the West, at least - no longer occupy the place they once had in mainstream medicine.

With the development of manufactured pharmaceutical products, plant remedies took a back seat and were labelled "alternative".

But now, there are signs that nature may be gearing up for a comeback. New research is starting to show that the many chemicals in herbal medicines work in synergy. In other words, using a whole herb, works better than taking active compounds extracted from it - the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Some scientists predict that in future herbal remedies, in their raw, natural form, will once again be prescribed by physicians, just as they were in the middle ages.

One of those scientists is Dr John Wilkinson, from Middlesex University, in north-west London, who is investigating the synergistic effects of hundreds of herbal medicine ingredients, using computer models. He has found that even supposedly inert compounds appear to exert an effect in conjunction with other molecules.

Dr Wilkinson's team has obtained dramatic results from tests of sage - the herb used to stuff Christmas turkey - which hundreds of years ago was widely-believed to improve the memory. If other herbs yield similar results, we could see a herbal medicine renaissance - and there's a huge range of traditional plant remedies to try.

Even cancer can be tackled with herbs, according to traditional belief. Research conducted at the University of Illinois in Chicago has shown that thyme contains 40 cancer-preventing substances, and sweet basil more than 30.

In India, scientists at the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad, gave chronic smokers daily doses of turmeric for a month. They found that their bodies eliminated three to eight times more carcinogens than smokers who did not eat the spice.

A 1990 study of 4,000 Italians and Chinese showed that garlic and its relatives such as onions, leeks and chives, may help prevent stomach cancer. Siberian ginseng has been found to increase people's rate of recovery from cancer, and a Japanese study discovered that shitake mushrooms can shrink tumours.

In the 1960s, the cancer-curing claims made for a tree bark called pau d'arco, used by the Incas and Aztecs, to treat immune-related problems, caused such a stir in Brazil, that people were ripping it off trees.

A clinical study of pau d'arco, in the 1980s showed that the herb reduced pain and other symptoms suffered by victims of various types of cancer.

One of the great herbal success stories is echinacea, introduced as a 'blood purifier' in America, in 1887. Since the 1950s, nearly 400 studies have shown that echinacea can improve the immune system in various ways. …