Botanicals bloom eternal, and offer a grand diversity of health-promoting effects. Chris Kilham has searched the world over and finds true love with these five herbs to consider in your next product launch
As a medicine hunter, I roam the landscape of herbal medicine from one country to the next, from mountains to rainforests, at trade shows and in bazaars, exploring funky markets in faraway places, attending conferences and shopping at Whole Foods. This past year had me working on the Silk Road in Asia and in the Amazon half a dozen times. As a result of these experiences, certain botanicals loom large in my mind. And so, gazing into somewhat of an herbal crystal ball, I'd like to offer some thoughts on five botanicals that can make brilliant contributions to human health, while helping to fuel the herbal market economy.
Rhodiola rosea — This past July I hiked in the great Tian Shan mountains of Central Asia, observing Uigur herb hunters harvesting Rhodiola rosea roots on steep slopes. To meet the challenges of life in today's fast-paced, high-stress world, rhodiola appears ideal. In human studies using extracts of the root, rhodiola fights fatigue, combats stress, and possesses both antioxidant and anticancer properties. Rhodiola protects body and mind against oxygen deprivation, enhances overall immune function, and promotes healthy sexual function in men and women. According to published science, this activity is largely attributed to a group of pharmacologically active compounds in the root called rosavins.1,2,3,4,5
In the brain, rhodiola extract helps to improve various parameters of brain function including attention, memory, thought formation, calculating, evaluating, planning and overall learning.1,6,7
Rhodiola rosea is a first-rate adaptogen. By definition, this means that rhodiola demonstrates safety, offers broad benefits to body and mind, and specifically helps the user to adapt better to physical and mental stress.8
In various human studies, rhodiola improved strength, endurance, stamina, physical work capacity, recovery time from exertion, motor co-ordination and cardiovascular measurements. Rhodiola extract decreases fatigue and exhaustion. This makes rhodiola extract a superior sports-performance aid. Extract of the root also helped users to reduce work-related errors.9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16
Rhodiola also improves aspects of sexual health. In one study of women with amenorrhea, rhodiola helped a majority of these women to regain proper healthy menstrual regularity.17,18 In another study of 35 middle-aged men with erectile dysfunction, 25 improved significantly after taking an extract of rhodiola.19,20
Rhodiola rosea offers a dynamic health experience for the herbal user. If you take it, you will feel it. In my estimation, rhodiola is the broadest, most remarkable feel-good botanical in nature's pharmacy. This herb has the power to revolutionise people's experience of their health, and can be an effective gateway botanical. If people use a good quality Rhodiola rosea product and experience positive results, they will then feel much greater confidence in trying other herbal remedies.
Schisandra — Yes, this is a berry, but don't think superfruit Ã la goji or açai. Think strange, exotic and only used for medicine. The berry of Schisandra chinensis owes its name, Wu Wei Zi (five flavored berry), to the fact that it is at once sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent. Nobody eats this stuff with yoghurt. Rather, schisandra berry is made into various medicinal preparations for longevity and overall vitality.
Last year I visited the main area of schisandra berry cultivation, in China's northeastern province of Liaoning. There I sampled the berry fresh off the vine at harvest, dried and in alcoholic preparations. Besides having a memorable if strange taste, schisandra has made a big impression in the scientific community, as numerous studies demonstrate its potent health benefits.
Schisandra chinensis enjoys millennia of traditional use for prolonging life, retarding the ageing process and increasing energy, and as a fatigue-fighter and sexual tonic.21,22 Schisandra also possesses significant protective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities.23,24,25,26
Schisandra also demonstrates significant adaptogenic activity.27,28,29,30 Used as a general tonic, schisandra decreases fatigue and enhances physical performance and endurance.26,31,32,33 Like rhodiola, schisandra offers great benefits for athletes. In human studies, schisandra has improved performance among long-distance runners, skiers and gymnasts.30
Schisandra also offers special benefits to the mind. Several human studies show that schisandra extract improves concentration, co-ordination and endurance. Schisandra helps prevent mental fatigue and increases accuracy and quality of work.34
As if all these benefits weren't enough, schisandra also offers liver-protective benefits.27 Schisandra helps in the treatment of hepatitis, as noted in more than 500 cases.35 In fact, an antihepatitis drug was developed from Schisadrin C.33
At present, schisandra is still relatively unknown in the US market. But due to its age-old use for enhancing vitality and its strong science base, schisandra and its preparations should get a good market boost in the years ahead.
Maca — Think of maca as the mojo herb. Over the past 12 years I have watched maca go from an obscure and unknown botanical to an increasingly strong seller in the US, Europe and parts of Asia. Maca, a tuber from the central highlands of Peru, enjoys a long history of traditional use for improved energy, stamina and sexual enhancement, and is the only cruciferous plant native to Peru.36,37,38,39
A highly nutritious food, dried maca contains about 59 per cent carbohydrates, and has a protein value of slightly more than 10 per cent. It possesses a higher lipid content than other root crops at 2.2 per cent. Linoleic acid, palmitic acid and oleic acid are the primary fatty acids present. Maca is also a rich source of sterols, including sitosterol, campestrol, ergosterol, brassicasterol and ergostadienol. Maca is also a good source of iron, potassium and calcium.40
What agents in maca account for its purported energy, stamina and sex-enhancing effects? Two groups of compounds, the macamides and macaenes, may be phytochemical keys to this high-altitude root. In animal experiments, rodents fed maca extracts standardised to these compounds showed increased energy and stamina, and exhibited a significant increase in sexual activity as compared with those that had not been fed maca. Meanwhile, three recent human studies show that maca imparts sexual health benefits, enhancing overall sex drive and function.41,42,43
One double-blind clinical trial of 50 Caucasian men affected by mild erectile dysfunction showed that daily intake of maca improved overall sexual satisfaction, enhanced erectile function and improved overall psychological well-being.44
A study investigating the effect of 14 days of maca supplementation on endurance performance and sexual desire in trained male cyclists resulted in significantly improved cycling time performances, and improved self-rated sexual desire scores compared to the baseline test.45
Another maca sex study involved users of SSRI antidepressants who had experienced a decrease in sex drive related to use of those medications. Daily intake of 3g of maca resulted in improved sex drive and improved overall sexual satisfaction.46
Results of animal and human studies clearly show that maca, whose reputation for sexual enhancement goes back to Incan history, lives up to its reputation under scientific scrutiny.36,37
Cat's claw — Among the many beneficial traditional Amazon botanicals, una de gato, or cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa), is one of the most powerfully protective of all. A woody vine, the plant earns its name due to its sharp, clawlike thorns. Both the inner bark of the vine and the roots are used for medicinal purposes.47
The phytochemistry of cat's claw has been very well studied. The oxindole alkaloids demonstrate immune-modulating and antileukemic activity. Other constituents called quinovic acid glycosides show anti-inflammatory and antiviral activity. Antioxidant phenols and plant sterols contribute to the plant's anti-inflammatory properties. Yet another group of cat's claw compounds called carboxyl alkyl esters demonstrate immune-enhancing, anticancer and anti-inflammatory activity, as well as cell-repairing properties.48
Studies conducted with cat's claw extract demonstrate anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, antiviral and immune-stimulating properties.49,50,51,52,53 The oxindole alkaloids in the vine demonstrate immune-enhancing activity by producing an increase in phagocytosis, a process by which potentially harmful materials are 'eaten' by protective cells.47,52 In studies of quinovic acid glycosides in the plant, researchers observed significant anti-inflammatory activity. Additionally, these same compounds were shown to inhibit several types of common viruses.54,55 Cat's claw extract demonstrates benefit as an adjunct to chemotherapy and radiotherapy in cancer treatment, and improves overall paramaters of health in cases of various cancers.56
Preparations from cat's claw have long been used in Peruvian traditional medicine to treat infections, inflammation and tumours. In one recent study, the pentacyclic oxindole alkaloid mitraphylline was tested for possible antiproliferative and cytotoxic effects on human Ewing's sarcoma and breast-cancer cell lines. Positive results suggest that mitraphylline might be a promising new agent in the treatment of both human sarcoma and breast cancer.57
Cosmetics manufacturers take note: a substantial body of science shows a direct link between exposure to UVB rays and increased risk of skin malignancies. A study showed cat's claw, formulated in a lotion and applied topically, appeared to inhibit damage to skin caused by UVB exposure, and helped to repair damaged DNA. This suggests a valuable role in cosmetics for extracts of cat's claw. In my estimation, we have only seen the beginning of cat's claw's growth in the herbal market.58
Turmeric — This herb is all over the market and already widely used. Still, I believe that turmeric and its derivative curcumin have a long road of steady growth and popularity ahead, due to an outstanding body of science. Traditionally, turmeric, or Curcuma longa, has been widely used for food, cosmetic and medicinal purposes. Turmeric provides the distinctive yellow colour to curry, and is used to colour butter, cheese and other foods.59,60 In India's traditional system of Ayurveda, turmeric enjoys a long history of use and is a well-documented treatment for respiratory conditions including asthma and allergies, coughs, and sinusitis, and is used to treat liver disorders, rheumatism and hard-to-heal diabetic wounds.61
Compounds in turmeric most responsible for its broad uses are the curcuminoids, notably curcumin. Curcumin demonstrates antioxidant and anti-in?ammatory effects, anticarcinogenic and antimicrobial activity, and hepatoprotective cardioprotective and anti-arthritic benefits.60,63,64,65,66,67,68 Whole turmeric root and concentrated curcumin demonstrate great safety. No studies in animals or humans have discovered any toxicity associated with the use of either, even at very high doses.62,69,70
Now recent studies suggest that curcumin may also offer significant cognitive-enhancing and antidepressant benefits.72,73,74,75,76,77 This effect appears primarily due to curcumin's capacity to promote the activity of neuroprotective factors in the brain, and to regulate certain neurotransmitters. This research suggests even broader uses for curcumin than previously considered, and suggests opportunity for inclusion of curcumin in brain-protective and mood-enhancing formulas.
Author Chris Kilham is a frequent guest on Fox News and is a weekly contributor to the Fox News health website. To read his past columns, go to http://health.blogs.foxnews.com/category/medicine-hunter/.
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