Herbs / Vitamins / Drugs / Supplements

Herbs - Variations in Quality and Non-Estrogenic Menopausal Relief

As promised, this month is a continuation of issues of herbal safety and efficacy. Last month, I touched upon the minimal number of adverse reactions to herbs, as compared to pharmaceuticals, and common household products. I also discussed risk/benefit ratio.

This month, I would like to share with you the interesting information I have recently learned concerning herbal activity and quality. There's a great deal of misinformation regarding herbs and particularly in the area of 'standardized extracts.' Often, a standardized extract simply means that there is a defined weight of herb per ml of extract. The problem comes in the quality of the raw materials. Let me give you two examples.

One sobering example is Andographis, an Ayurvedic herb which has recently become very popular as an anti-viral, anti-microbial agent. It is, in fact, very powerful when the raw herb contains significant quantities of the active compound: andrographolide. However, something unexpected has been happening in batches of raw herb product. The manufacturers of Medi-Herb test each lot of raw material using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), an extremely sensitive and reliable assay technique. The lot in question had been certified to contain 10% andographolide by gravimetric assay. (In essence, they just weighed it!) When assayed by HPLC, it became apparent that the raw product contained none of the active ingredient. And, in fact, it contained an unknown compound. Upon further chemical analysis, it turned out that the unknown substance was deoxyandrographolide, a by-product of andrographolide extraction!

Let me explain: The herbal supplier had extracted the active ingredient to sell to a pharmaceutical house as an antibiotic; then, the raw herb was dried and resold to an herbal manufacturer on the assumption that they wouldn't know any different. And, if the proper testing had not been done, no one would have been any the wiser.

Another example is Tribulus terrestis, an herb from Bulgaria which is very effective for menopausal symptoms. The original studies were standardized to 40 to 45% furanosterolic saponins (the active ingredients) by a very sensitive spectrophotometric method. Tribulus is very costly since the Bulgarian product is in limited supply. Imitators quickly came into the market (usually from China or India) representing that they have 40% saponins. However, upon spectrophotometric analysis, they actually have only 3% of the active ingredient. Again, the gravimetric method was used, which is inappropriate and gives an inaccurate result; and, hence, a useless remedy.

The issue which probably impacts the most people is standardization of Echinacea to levels of polysaccharides. In the first place, polysaccharide is a generic term which includes any polymer of sugar, starch or cellulose. It bears no relationship to the immunologically active components of Echinacea. The best way to determine whether your Echinacea product is immunologically active is to place it on your tongue. It should have a 'bite' or 'tingle,' since the active ingredients (alkylamides and caffeic acid esters) are quite acidic. Another issue is that many manufacturers are using Echinacea flowers or plant parts for their tinctures. The active component is the root, which is much less available since it must mature in the ground for a number of years. Also, the plant and flowers have a much higher risk of allergenicity than does the root-based extract.

I could go on and on. However, these are just some of the highlights that demonstrate the importance of quality control in herbal remedy manufacture: beginning with the first step of checking the raw product, right through the entire production process, up to the final product when the level of active ingredients again needs to be assayed.

The Medi-Herb product line which we have begun to work with fulfills all of these requirements. In fact, in Australia they are considered to be a pharmaceutical manufacturer and are subject to intense paperwork requirements certifying each lot of herb. In fact, they have 85% of the herbal market in Australia and which is pretty amazing when you think about it!

I personally have had major wins with two of the Medi-Herb products: Tribulus® and Rehmannia Complex Phytosynergist® (RCP). I'll discuss the RCP in detail next month. It's wonderful for auto-immune conditions, like fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

However, with regard to Tribulus®: If you've been following my letters over the years, you know how concerned I have been about substituting estrogenic herbs for pharmaceutical estrogens. It's still the medical model, and I know that lifetime estrogen exposure is the largest risk factor in breast cancer. (For more information, see our web site: RichardsFamilyHealth.com) Tribulus® is entirely different. It works at the level of the pituitary and hypothalamus estrogen receptors, allaying the effects of estrogen withdrawal. In one study with Tribulus, 50 women were first given a placebo and then were given the herb. Their primary symptoms included hot flashes (100%), sweating (78%) and insomnia (82%). With active treatment with the herb, 98% experienced symptom improvement. The treatment with the placebo had no effect.

Personally, my experience with Tribulus® has been remarkable. Within the first 3 days of taking it, all of my insomnia had resolved. I was getting up 3 or 4 times a night and having trouble getting back to sleep. About the second or third night I was on the therapy, I slept 8 hours straight through! I thought I was in my 20's and 30's again. Getting more rest has had an incredibly positive effect on my outlook. I still have an occasional hot flash, particularly if I'm under a lot of stress. However, my symptoms are at least 85%-90% gone. Now that I've been using Tribulus® for several months, I have an even greater level of confidence in it. The dose begins at 2 in the morning and 2 in the evening for 1 to 3 months. Once symptom control is achieved, you can step down with your dose to 3 a day, and then 2 per day. Some women can actually stop the herb after several months on it.

The reason finding the minimum dose is important is that Tribulus® is expensive. Good quality Tribulus is in limited supply. However, when you do the math, you would have to take 13 tablets of poor quality (Indian or Chinese) Tribulus to get the same effect and if it would work at all! This is definitely an instance of 'you get what you pay for.'

Incidentally, Tribulus is also the specific for andropause, male impotence and erectile problems. Last weekend's herbal seminar went into detail on protocols for male endocrine disorders. Since I'm not a man, I have no first hand information on the efficacy of Tribulus for male endocrine disorders. So if you, or a man you know, is suffering from poor libido, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, irritability, depression and reduced bone density (which is associated with a reduced testosterone level), consider herbs for increased well-being and vigor. I have protocols which can really help. By the way, were you aware that cholesterol-lowering drugs can lower testosterone levels and lead to many of the symptoms mentioned above? How many men do you know who have been prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication?

Next month, I will share more with you concerning the marvelous properties of herbs in facilitating the body's healing mechanisms. I think it is absolutely amazing that the plants that grow around us contain the answers to so many of our challenges.

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