5 Herbs to Promote Good Health

Since before the dawn of recorded history, humanity has employed herbal remedies to improve vitality, fight off disease, and speed healing. Of course, a long history of usage by itself doesn't prove herbal remedies actually work, but in recent years modern science has begun to validate many of the claims previously backed up only by anecdotal evidence.

On the other hand, the touted benefits for a few herbs seem shaky at best, and outright fraudulent in a few cases. So how do you separate the beneficial from the bogus? Research and analysis. To help you get started, we'll discuss five popular herbs with proven benefits for boosting your overall health.

Reishi

More and more people these days are realizing mushrooms aren't just for adding taste to pizza and salads. While many varieties of mushrooms provide a wealth of nutritional benefits as well as being good to eat, three in particular, reishi, maitake and shiitake, have proven value as health enhancers. We have chosen to focus on reishi for this article. Why? In part because reishi is a mushroom you won't be ingesting as part of your regular diet. Unlike maitake and shiitake, reishi possesses a bitter taste and is not used for culinary purposes. But it is superb for promoting good health.

Reishi has exceptional benefits as an immune booster and a source of improved vitality. People who take this herb on a regular basis rarely get sick even when all around them are coughing and sneezing, and report improved energy levels without the accompanying jittery feeling associated with caffeine. In addition, reishi promotes improved cardiovascular health, and research indicates it may be beneficial in the treatment of cancer, causing tumors to shrink or disappear.

Reishi also has proven benefits for the respiratory system, especially for sufferers of asthma and bronchitis. In one study involving over 2,000 participants with chronic bronchitis, over 90% of those taking reishi reported improvements within two weeks. Various other studies have supported reishi as having anti-inflammatory properties, and as a treatment for high blood pressure and arthritis. In addition, a protein isolate from reishi is used to reduce the risk of transplant rejection. If you're looking for a wonder herb to boost your immune system and increase your vitality on a daily basis, reishi is a good place to start.

Garlic

Garlic has traditionally been believed to keep individuals who consume it from getting sick, and recent scientific research supports the efficacy of garlic in promoting immune health. Garlic acts as a powerful natural antibiotic, one that the body doesn't build up a resistance to, so that its benefits continue over time. Garlic also possesses a powerful antioxidant effect, contributes to improved cardiovascular function, and reduces "bad" cholesterol levels.

Interestingly, the preparation of garlic makes an enormous difference in its immune boosting properties. If you want to get the maximum health benefits from garlic, make sure you mince it! Mincing (or chopping or crushing, the finer the better) releases and activates the healthful properties of garlic. Studies have shown that fresh minced garlic is best, with garlic minced 10 minutes prior to being eaten having the maximum effect. The chemical known as allicin provides most of the health benefits you get from eating garlic, and it is a highly volatile compound that begins to slowly degrade shortly after preparation. This explains why pre-minced garlic and garlic supplements have proven less effective in studies than the freshly minced variety.

The other primary immune boosters in garlic are diallyl sulphides. Diallyl sulphides degrade much more slowly than allicin, and unlike allicin can survive being microwaved. But, as with allicin, they are released during chopping and crushing.

Too much garlic can damage the digestive tract, and it is not recommended before surgery because of its anticoagulant properties. It is also contraindicated for individuals taking certain drugs for HIV.

Acai

Acai has recently made headlines as a potential miracle food. While we wouldn't go that far, this amazing berry from South America does pack a greater nutrient punch per ounce than practically any other fruit. The acai berry contains higher levels of phytonutrients and antioxidants than any of its berry counterparts, even blueberries, along with high vitamin density, protein and even omega-3 fatty acids. While no peer-reviewed scientific studies have yet been concluded on the health benefits of acai, it's a fair assumption that it will surpass blueberries and blackberries as the ultimate berry health food. At the very least, you'll be getting a dose of healthful nutrients whenever you eat the fresh berry or buy a properly prepared supplement. To get the full benefits of this berry, make sure any acai supplement you purchase has been flash-frozen or flash-freeze dried.

Ginkgo

Gingko biloba has been an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. In recent decades, modern research has backed up many of the claims for gingko, most famously its ability to improve memory and concentration, as well as test-taking ability and the ability to perform complicated tasks. It has also been shown to improve circulation in patients suffering from clogged arteries, and possesses impressive antioxidant properties that boost overall immune health. Studies conflict about its use for treatment of vertigo, depression, multiple sclerosis and for either treating or delaying the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's, but at least some research indicates its potential in all of these areas.

Preliminary research also shows promise for gingko in treating hemorrhoids, altitude sickness, macular degeneration, and in reducing the symptoms of severe PMS, but only very limited studies has been conducted in these areas at this time.

Because of its blood-thinning properties, Gingko should not be used with other anticoagulants or aspirin, and a very small percentage of the population, usually those with extreme allergic reactions to mango or poison ivy, may suffer from mild headaches or upset stomach when taking gingko. In addition, pregnant women and individuals taking MAOIs and SSRIs for depression should consult with their doctor before taking ginkgo.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is a traditional Ayurvedic herb which is considered so useful for increasing overall vitality that it has been dubbed "the Indian ginseng" in some circles. It is said to give users an increased feeling of energy while simultaneously promoting calmness of mood. It is also commonly used to treat chronic fatigue disorder and sexual dysfunction. While clinical trials have only recently begun on ashwagandha, research at this point strongly supports it use for treating arthritis, reducing anxiety and preventing anxiety attacks, and easing drug withdrawal symptoms.

Trials are currently underway to test ashwagandha's efficacy in treating tuberculosis, bone cancer, bipolar disorder, Parkinson's disease, and diabetes. Ashwagandha is also being studied for its ability to improve overall vitality for the elderly and ease symptoms in patients undergoing chemotherapy.