For millennia, societies around the world have relied on natural supplements to meet their health needs. Despite modern-day medical and technological advancements, the global market for natural supplements is on the rise. That’s said, some natural supplements are strong as medicines, but these supplements are not subject to the same scientific scrutiny because the FDA does not regulate them as pharmaceutical products. For example, herbal supplement manufacturers need to follow excellent manufacturing practices to ensure that supplements meet quality requirements.
Turmeric is a common spice renowned for the yellow color and used in many south Asian recipes. People in India have been using this herb for thousands of years for medicinal purposes. The main active substance in turmeric is curcumin, which is widely researched herb. Curcumin has an anti-inflammatory properties that can block an inflammatory molecule called NF-kB. Some studies show its effects are strong as anti-inflammatory medicines with no significant side effects. According to one study, 500 mg of curcumin per day was as efficient as anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac in people with rheumatoid arthritis. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
There are also countless other health benefits of turmeric. It is a strong antioxidant that can boost heart health and can help prevent diseases such as cancer. Some studies show curcumin may aid in the prevention of depression and can work as some antidepressant medicines. Usually, the body cannot absorb curcumin, therefore, it is best to use a supplement that contains a substance called piperine. Piperine is an alkaloid present in black pepper (Piper nigrum), which has been shown to increase curcumin absorption in the bloodstream by 2,000 percent. Thus, you can also add black pepper with your turmeric recipe to increase its efficiency. (7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
The curcumin in turmeric has anti-inflammatory effects and can inhibit an inflammatory molecule known as NF-kB (nuclear factor kappa light chain enhancer of activated B cells). It is a powerful antioxidant that can improve heart health and help prevent diseases like cancer. According to certain studies, it may also aid in the prevention of depression.
Garlic is another common ingredient, which has been used for thousands of years for its strong medicinal properties. The active compound in garlic is allicin, which is good for heart health. Studies show that garlic can decrease complete cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol by an average of 10–15%. Aged garlic extract can reduce blood pressure, which is a significant risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, renal diseases, and premature death. The effects of aged garlic extract were like some medicines. Garlic also seems to increase the function of the immune system and fight the common cold. For example, it decreased the cold by 63% and the length of cold symptoms by 70%. (12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20)
Garlic can reduce total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol by 10–15% on average. Allicin, the key compound in garlic, which is beneficial to heart health. In addition, the effects of garlic on blood pressure are as strong as some medicines.
3. Red Yeast Rice
Statin is one of the world’s most prescribed drugs used to lower cholesterol levels. The extract inhibits cholesterol production in your liver, resulting in lower levels of blood cholesterol. Interestingly, this fermented rice extract called red yeast rice can have comparable effects. It contains small quantities of monacolin K, which is the active ingredient in the Lovastatin statin drug. According to a review of 93 studies, red yeast rice reduced cholesterol by an average of 34 mg, LDL (bad) cholesterol by 28 mg, and triglycerides by 35 mg while improved HDL (good) cholesterol by 6 mg. (21, 22, 23)
Another study comprising 5,000 people in China who had experienced heart attacks, red yeast rice reduced their risk of heart attacks by 45% and the risk of dying during the study period by 33%. However, people who are allergic to fungus or yeast should avoid using red yeast rice extract. (24)
Red yeast rice can lower cholesterol by 34 mg on average, LDL (bad) cholesterol by 28 mg, and triglycerides by 35 mg on average. It also reduces the risk of heart attacks by half.
Berberine is extracted from certain plants such as European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, phellodendron, and tree turmeric. It is a chemical that has a bitter taste and a yellow colour used to strengthen the heartbeat, which may aid those suffering from certain heart diseases. Scientists believe these affects are because of various mechanisms. Studies show berberine can decrease the output of glucose in your liver, enhance insulin sensitivity, and the effects are almost similar to metformin, which is a common blood sugar lowering medicine. (25, 26, 27, 28, 29)
Study also shows berberine reduced fasting blood sugar levels by 20% and HbA1c (hemoglobin A1c) a marker for long-term blood sugar levels by 12%. In addition, berberine also improved other health indicators such as triglyceride, blood pressure, and LDL (bad) cholesterol, which can reduce heart disease risks. Berberine has antibacterial effects that may protect against cancer. While berberine effects are strong as medicine, use it with caution and consult with your doctor if you are taking berberine supplements. (30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35)
The effects of berberine are essentially identical to metformin, a common blood sugar reducing medication. It may increase insulin sensitivity, reduce blood pressure, and protect against cancer.
Supplements can never substitute a healthy lifestyle. However, some natural supplements are strong as medicines and should be consumed carefully. The extract might interfere with other blood pressure and thyroid medications, as well with any medicines and vitamins you may be using. Whatever your health condition, always consult your doctor before using supplements.
- Curcumin downregulates the constitutive activity of NF-kappaB and induces apoptosis in novel mouse melanoma cells. Melanoma Res. 2007.
- A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytother Res. 2012.
- Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007.
- Garlic as a lipid lowering agent–a meta-analysis. J R Coll Physicians Lond. 1994.
- Effects of Allium sativum (garlic) on systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with essential hypertension. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2013.
- Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey. Adv Ther. 2001.
- Chinese red yeast rice (Monascus purpureus) for primary hyperlipidemia: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Chin Med. 2006.
- Collaborative Group for China Coronary Secondary Prevention Using Xuezhikang. China coronary secondary prevention study (CCSPS). Zhonghua Xin Xue Guan Bing Za Zhi. 2005
- Berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systemic review and meta-analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012.
- Treatment of type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia with the natural plant alkaloid berberine. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008.
- The effects of berberine on blood lipids: a systemic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Planta Med. 2013.
- Berberine. Altern Med Rev. 2000.