Herbs - food supplements or medicinal?

Date: Mon, 6 Nov 1995 16:44:39 -0800
From: jonathan treasure <jonno.TELEPORT.COM>
Subject: Re: Cohosh

>My bottle of Solaray blue cohosh root (Caulophyllum thalictroides) 500 mg capsules says:
"Take as a food supplement two or three capsules two times taily. Take with meals or a glass of water. CAUTION: Do NOT use if pregnant or if you may become pregnant while using."

>There is nothing about the alkaloids, including caulaphylline, saponins, and resin, or the side effect of rising blood pressure. Why would anyone want to take this as a food supplement? Isn't it almost exclusively used by pregnant women, anyway? Does this mean that the herb is non-toxic at this dose? Or what criteria do they use to determine dosages?


in terms of local speak - get real might be your answer!

The whole point about OTC herbal products in the USA is that they legally can only be sold, quixotic as it may appear, as food supplements not medicines.

There are laws which govern the labelling of food supplements, and medicinal claims cannot be made for them. The use of Caulophyllum during pregnancy is quite rightly contraindicated on your bottle - it is of course taken by pregnant women but only around childbirth. Toxicity is another question altogether. Maybe look at the FAQ of alt.folklore.herbs for some discussion of this. Finally, since the constituents are usually not necessarily all known, and largely meaningless to most people, (including a lot of herbalists) they are not included on labels unless the manufacturer has "standardised" the preparation to guarantee a certain content of a so called active ingredient.

>Surely I'm not the only person who would like to see herbal producers and practitioners work together to produce inserts (somewhat like those in prescription drugs) that list known uses and side effects.

You are not, and in other countries such co-operation happens - at any rate to a greater degree than in the USA. At the end of the day large scale US supplement manufacturers are not really the right people to be looking to for definitive statements about known uses or side effects - and the WWW is currently full of large and small operations selling herbs/supplements etc claiming to be knowledgeable about the effects. Most of this information is second or third hand rubbish, subordinated to pushing their own product. For example if they sell capsules - they reproduce apparently authoritative articles on why capsules are the best way of taking herbs etc etc.

>Regarding black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), I wonder if the salycilates, since they are related to aspirin, cause bleeding the way aspirin does. Perhaps the sterols or steroidal saponins encourage expulsion of the placenta, by increasing the intensity of uterine contractions during childbirth?

Plant salicylates tend not to exist in the same form as synthetic aspirin is - and as a result are less harsh on the stomach lining. In western terms Cimicifuga acts on the hypothalamic-pituitary axis as well as the myometrium. It is not, to my knowledge,regarded as increasing intensity so much as regularity and rhthym of contraction. In fact it is in many ways a relaxant......

>The people we bought the blue cohosh from said that both black and blue cohosh can be used interchangably to speed labor. But if the information sent to me is correct (Michael Moore as author of source reference), the plants have quite different specific indications. It seems that herbal medications, like other drugs, should be used with the most knowledge and care possible, as they can be as dangerous as they are helpful. But where do people go to learn these things? Is all the technical literature 100 years old or more?

Actually some of the best technical literature on Specific Indications IS precisely 100 years old or more. The concept was pioneered by the Eclectic movement - which for a brief period at the turn of the century was THE dominant medical movement in the USA. There is considerably more useful information on the specific use of herbs in the writings of Felter, Lloyd, Ellingwood [see the classic texts] and others than in 99% of modern herbal information books. Michael Moore is an contemporary exponent of that approach, and in addition has extensive experience of both native and modern usages of the American flora. It is not however an approach used either by Naturopaths or even that many medical herbalists.

you pays yer money and takes yer choice....some things don't change.


jonathan treasure