When the government grades effectiveness of herbal supplements, prepare to be shocked at the results

Scantily clad

Instead of warning us about the next Enron or what’s going on at JP Morgan — or even what to do if Greece does actually come off the euro, The Wall St. Journal is wasting ink printing fiction about herbal supplements.

The article claims that scientific evidence to support health benefits of herbal supplements is “scant.”

Then the article blunders. It directs readers to medlineplus.gov for details about herbal supplement research. But you have to wonder if the author of the article actually visited that site. Because when you get there, “scant” is not the word that comes to mind.

More like “abundant.”

Superior grades

Did you hear that Echinacea is useless in fighting colds?

Very likely, you did. That’s one of the favorite lines parroted by lazy reporters.

But when you go to Medline Plus, a chart titled “Uses based on scientific evidence” tells a different story.

Echinacea scores a grade of B — which indicates “Good scientific evidence for this use” — in these two categories…

  • Prevention of upper respiratory infections (adults and children)
  • Treatment of upper respiratory infections (adults)

How about St. John’s wort? “No better than placebo,” is the phrase you’ll see repeatedly. And yet, Medline Plus gives St. John’s wort a grade of A — “Strong scientific evidence for this use” — for treating “mild-to-moderate depressive disorder.”

To be fair, the WSJ article does mention these successes…

  • Chamomile extract is better than placebo in reducing anxiety
  • Milk thistle is effective in disrupting hepatitis C virus

But ginkgo biloba, we’re told, “does not prevent heart attack, stroke, or cancer, or stem memory loss.”

Okay. But before you ditch your ginkgo supplement, check these ginkgo grades…

  • A, for treating dementia
  • A, for relieving claudication (painful legs from clogged arteries)
  • B, for improving blood flow to the brain to improve concentration and reduce confusion

Want more? The abundance continues!

Red yeast rice gets an A for lowering LDL and triglycerides.

Pcynogenol gets two B grades in these categories…

  • Treating asthma
  • Relieving chronic venous insufficiency (leg swelling and varicose veins)

Ginseng gets three B grades in these categories…

  • Boosting immune function
  • Lowering blood sugar in type 2 diabetics
  • Heart healthy antioxidant effects (such as reduction of LDL oxidation)

I could go on and on, because Medline Plus goes on and on. And not just for herbs. Vitamins and minerals are included in the grading system too.

Admit it, WSJ. The “scant” days are over.

“Herbal Supplements Face New Scrutiny” Laura Landro, Wall St. Journal, 9/14/10, online.wsj.com

“Herbs and supplements” Medline Plus, Medlineplus.gov

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