Is there any significant evidence that any of the following herbal remedies actually work in treating the conditions with which they’re associated?
Aloe vera for treating minor burns, including sunburn – 2009 review concludes: “some promising results with the use of aloe vera for diverse dermatologic conditions, clinical effectiveness of oral and topical aloe vera is not sufficiently and meticulously explored as yet.”
Black cohosh for reducing menopause symptoms – UK NHS clinical knowledge database states: “There is no good evidence that phytoestrogens, black cohosh, evening primrose oil, dong quai, ginkgo biloba, or ginseng are effective for treating menopausal symptoms.”
Boswellia (frankincense) for coping with arthritis and joint pain: NHS Choices says about the study of this substance: “One trial is rarely conclusive; more data are needed.”
Cranberry for cystitis and urinary-tract infections: Science-based Pharmacy has this to say after reviewing the literature: “When it comes to alternative medicine for urinary tract infections, there’s not much use in cranberry juice.”
Echinacea for influenza and cold prevention: The British Medical Journal reports that evidence of moderate quality obtained so far would suggest that, “Compared with placebo We don’t know whether echinacea is more effective at reducing the duration of symptoms of the common cold.”
Evening primrose oil for reducing cholesterol levels: Attract Wales (a UK NHS site that answers health questions) states: “We found very few studies in humans examining the effects of evening primrose oil on lipids. Those that were found were small and contained possible confounding factors.”
Feverfew for preventing migraines: A Cochrane Review says, “There is insufficient evidence from randomised, double-blind trials to suggest an effect of feverfew over and above placebo for preventing migraine.”
Flaxseed for treating the bone condition osteoporosis:
Ginkgo for Alzheimer’s and improving mental acuity: NHS Choices reports that a recent study suggests that, “Ginkgo biloba does not improve cognitive function in people with mild–to-moderate dementia.”
Papaya for herniated spinal disks: An enzyme extracted from papaya fruit can be injected into herniated disks to dissolve the gelatinous tissue and so reduce protruberant swelling (Time magazine report), this does not imply that eating papaya will be of benefit as enzymes are proteins and are broken down by the digestive system.
UPDATE: 8th July 2010
This item has come in for some criticism from “MyQute” regarding my “attack” on “natural” “foods”. I’ve used inverted commas around those words because I disagree vehemently with their use in this discussion. Anyway, here are my responses to the attack:
First, they’re not “foods”, foods are eaten for nutritional purposes, these are meant to have medicinal effects.
Secondly, the majority are not “natural” they’re produced in manufacturing plants and sold in stores, there’s nothing natural about the processes involved.
Third, I did not simply use NHS references, check each link you’ll see.
Fourth, everything on the NHS website is vetted by medical professionals with no vested interest in the issues other than in the sense that they would rather not see people waste their money on products that may have a detrimental effect.
Fifth, the references I cite round up data from various sources, such as Cochrane Reviews and are not to single studies, they each generally weigh up all the available evidence and that points to most of these products as having little or no benefit in the claimed conditions.