Modern medicine works, but some traditional herbal remedies are increasingly popular—and so effective that doctors recommend them. Beware, however, says London-based GP Dr. Sarah Jarvis: just because they’re natural doesn’t mean they’re safe. “Before taking them, speak to a doctor.” One reason is that they can interact with other medications you might be taking.
Psyllium husk, for constipation
Psyllium adds bulk to your stool to move things along. Dr. Danielle Martin, a Toronto doctor, says, “I often recommend this, as do many gastroenterologists.” (Bonus: Psyllium can lower cholesterol and aid in weight loss, since it makes you feel fuller.)
Black Cohosh, for menopausal hot flushes
“I recommend black cohosh to patients who would prefer not to have hormone-replacement therapy,” Dr. Jarvis says. Studies show it doesn’t work for everyone, but when taken in the dose recommended by your doctor, “it offers a good chance of relief.”
Melatonin, for sleeplessness
Catherine Mounier, 70, of Lyon, France, suffered from insomnia for years. Now, she sleeps well after her doctor, a sleep expert, recommended melatonin supplements. People with insomnia appear to have lower levels of natural melatonin.
Ginger, for nausea
“I recommend this for nausea during pregnancy,” says Dr. Martin. Studies have shown ginger is also effective and safe for nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy and motion sickness. Indeed, a review (published in 2016 in the journal Integrative Medicine Insights) of studies conducted over the past 30 years concluded ginger works.
St. John’s Wort, for depression
Says Dr. Jarvis: “This is effective for some people with depression if they are unwilling to take a prescription medicine.” A German study of 263 moderately depressed people, published in British Medical Journal in 1999, showed St. John’s wort was effective. As with other antidepressants, Jarvis says, if it doesn’t work, then you and your doctor try other options.
Magnesium, for sleeplessness
Magnesium deficiency can cause insomnia, so supplements could help, especially for insomniacs age 65 plus. Participants in a 2012 trial (published in International Journal of Research Medical Sciences) of 46 people who took a magnesium supplement got more, and better-quality, sleep.
Fish oil, for rheumatoid arthritis
Dr. Jarvis sometimes recommends fish oils for rheumatoid arthritis. Its omega-3 fatty acids helps reduce joint pain and morning stiffness. In a 2008 British study of 97 RA sufferers, those receiving fish oil supplements were able to reduce their painkillers by 39 per cent compared to only 10 per cent in the placebo group.