Herbs are plants or parts of plants. We use them every day without even knowing it-like when we eat peppermint candy, drink ginger ale or a cup of tea. Some herbs are used in cooking (like the oregano on a pizza) and some (like the ones we talk about here) are used in medicine.
In China people have been using herbs to treat illness for thousands of years. In some countries, like here in the United States, people are just beginning to learn how helpful herbs can be.
Many people like to use herbs because they are milder and have fewer side effects than conventional medicine. Because they can be so mild, herbs sometimes take longer to work than conventional drugs, but some people prefer taking something made in nature better than something made in a laboratory.
It's important to remember that even though herbs are natural, they can have strong effects on the human body and need to be used with care.
The body requires 45+ nutrients from the diet to maintain health.
These essential nutrients are divided into six categories: protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water.
Essential nutrients are substances that must be obtained from food or supplemental sources and are used by the body for growth, maintenance, or repair of tissues.
Even marginal deficiencies of one or more nutrients can interfere with health and contribute to the development of disease.
Vitamins are organic substances that must be supplied by the diet in very small amounts to promote growth, maintenance, and repair of the body.
13 essential vitamins are needed for many body processes, such as making and maintaining healthy red blood cells, hormones, nervous system function, chemicals, genetic material, and all the cells and tissues of the body.
Vitamins do not supply energy or calories, but many vitamins help convert calorie-containing substances in food, such as carbohydrate, protein, and fat, into usable energy for the body.
Deficiency symptoms develop if the diet supplies inadequate amounts of one or more vitamins. For example, too little vitamin A results in skin and eye disorders.
Vitamins are grouped into two categories: fat-soluble and water-soluble.
The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins are found in the oily or fatty parts of food and require a small amount of fat for absorption.
The water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C and the B vitamins (B1, B2, niacin, B6, folic acid, B12, pantothenic acid, and biotin). The water soluble vitamins are present in the watery parts of food and do not require fat for absorption.
Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body, while excess intakes of the water-soluble vitamins are generally excreted in the urine.
Some vitamins can produce toxic side effects when consumed in excessive amounts. These include vitamins A, D, and B6.
Some substances in food, such as choline and inositol, are as important to the body as vitamins, but are not considered essential since the body generally makes enough of these substances; the body might not require dietary sources of these nutrients.
The human body contains about 5 pounds of various minerals that work together with vitamins, enzymes, hormones, and transport substances to keep the body functioning properly.
Minerals are needed for a variety of purposes, such as nerve transmission, bone formation, muscle contraction, blood formation, and energy production.
The 20 minerals reconized as essential are divided into two classes: major minerals and trace minerals. Major minerals are present in the body in amounts greater than a teaspoon, while trace minerals total less than a teaspoon. Deficiencies of major or trace minerals have equally devastating health consequences.
The major minerals include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur.
The trace minerals include boron, chromium, cobalt, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, silicon, vanadium, and zinc.
Some minerals compete with each other for absorption in the digestive tract. A high intake of one such mineral can produce a deficiency of another mineral. For example, consuming high amounts of iron could result in a zinc deficiency.
The primary form of dietary fat, called triglyceride, is comprosed of two components: a "backbone" of glycerol with three fatty acids attached. Triglyceride is the fat that supplies calories in the diet and is stored in fat tissue in the body.
There are three types of fatty acids: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.
Saturated fatty acids (found primarily in meat, milk, and butter) are linked to an increased risk of developing several diseases. Health experts encourage individuals to minimize their intakes of saturated fats.
Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in olive and canola oils, and moderate amounts are associated with a healthy diet.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids are the only category of fatty acids that provide essential nutrients. The two types of essential fatty acids that belong to the polyunsaturated class are linoleic (omega-6) and linolenic (omega-3) fatty acids. These two classes of fatty acids must be supplied by diet.
Essential fatty acids are converted to other compounds in the body. Omega-6 fatty acid is the parent substance for gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), dihomogamma linolenic acid (DGLA), and arachidonic acid. These oily substances are important for the formation of hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins.
Omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), also help build prostaglandins and possibly aid in the prevention of heart disease, arthritis, and cancer.
Protein and its building blocks the amino acids are needed for the growth and repair of every cell in the body.
Protein and amino acids are the main compenents of muscles, skin, hair, nails, antibodies, hormones, and enzymes.
Twenty different amino acids are needed to build various proteins used in the body. Of these, half can be made by the body, while the other half (called essential amino acids) must come from diet.
The classification of an amino acid as essential or non-essential reflects whether or not the body is capable of manufacturing that particular amino acid.
The essential amino acids are: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine, Arginine and histidine are considered semi-essential since the body does not always require dietary sources for these two amino acids.
Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) are suggested intake levels for several essential nutrients and are developed and updated by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences.
The RDAs are designed to reflect how much of a particular nutrient, based on age, sex, weight, and height, is necessary to prevent overt signs of nutritional deficiency. For some nutrients there is not sufficient evidence to determine an appropriate RDA, which is why tables of Estimated Safe and Adequate Ranges are provided for these nutrients (such as for biotin, copper, and chromium).
When too little infomation is known about a nutrient to establish RDA levels, the Food and Nutrition Board recommends ranges of intakes called the Estimated Safe and Adequate Ranges. Nutrients that have these ranges include chromium, copper, manganese, molybdenum, biotin, and pantothenic acid.
The Daily Values are based on the RDAs and are used on food and supplement labels. Daily Values are usually the highest RDA for each nutrient.
The Daily Reference Intakes (DRIs) currently are being developed by the Food and Nutrition Board and are intended to replace the RDAs. The DRIs have a broader application than the RDAs, since they include estimated average requirements, individual RDAs, and maximum upper levels of intake for nutrients. Currently, DRIs are available only for calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and phosphorus.
While most nutrition experts agree that food is the best source of vitamins and minerals, many people do not consume optimal amounts of all nutrients from their diets.
Dietary supplements cannot take the place of a healthy diet, but supplements can fill in the gaps of a deficient diet. In addition, scientific evidence indicates that vertain nutrients, at even higher intakes than the RDA, provide health benefits. Very small amounts of vitamin C, for instance, will prevent the deficiency disease of scurvy, but much higher intakes might improve immune function and reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer.
Many people would benefit from multiple vitamin-mineral supplements that provide between 100 to 300 percent of a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
Some nutrients, such as the antioxidant vitamins C and E, can be consumed in amounts exceeding the RDA for extra health benefits.
An additional supplement of calcium and magnesium might be beneficial, since most single-dose multiple vitamine-mineral supplements do not provide adequate amounts of these nutrients.
A person might need additional vitamins or minerals beyond these general guidelines, and should discuss those needs with a trained health professional.
Most supplements claiming to be "natural" or "organic" generally are no different from other supplements.
There are exceptions. The body is better able to use the natural forms of vitamin E, selenium, and chromium. The natural form of vitamin E is called d-alpha-tocopherol (the synthetic form is called dl-alpha tocopherol or all-rac-alpha tocopherol), natural selenium is called selenium-rich yeast or L-selenomethionine, and natural chromium is found in chromium-rich yeast.