When it comes to healing, natural remedies can work wonders – but with so many available, how do we know which ones to take?
Our A-Z guide explains what each supplement can help to treat, and when it’s best not to take them.
It’s important to remember to always talk to your GP or pharmacist before taking herbal medication as it could mask the symptoms of a more serious illness, or may not be suitable if you have certain conditions, are on other medication, are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Artichoke extract is used to treat indigestion, nausea, flatulence, stomach spasms and heartburn. It can also help lower cholesterol. As it stimulates the flow of bile, it shouldn’t be taken if you have gallstones or bile duct blockages.
Black cohosh is effective at treating menopause symptoms, particularly hot flushes. It’s not recommended for women who have liver disease or oestrogen-sensitive conditions such as female cancers (breast, ovarian or uterine), endometriosis or fibroids.
CoQ10 (coenzyme Q10) is an antioxidant found in cells throughout the body, but levels decrease gradually after the age of 20. It can help boost energy and immunity, prevent migraines and protect against heart disease and high blood pressure.
Dandelion root reduces inflammation, has antiviral properties and increases urine production, so it’s used to combat water retention and to treat urinary tract infections such as cystitis, bladder inflammation or kidney infections.
Echinacea has anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties that can reduce the severity and length of colds and flu if you start taking it as soon as you notice symptoms. It’s not suitable for people with autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or ME.
Folic acid (vitamin B9) is vital for the production of DNA. It plays an important role in the development of the foetus, so is recommended for pregnant women and those trying for a baby to help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. It’s also believed to help reduce the risk of some cancers.
Glucosamine sulphate is a compound found in the fluid around our joints, so it is good for people with osteoarthritis as it can help to rebuild damaged cartilage and reduce joint pain and stiffness. But it shouldn’t be taken by asthma sufferers.
Hawthorn strengthens the heart and widens arteries so blood flow is increased. It protects against angina, heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure and can be helpful in combating heart palpitations if you suffer with panic attacks.
Inositol (vitamin B8) helps to balance brain chemicals and can be beneficial for OCD, mild depression and panic attacks. It can also help stimulate ovulation and control insulin resistance in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome. It’s not suitable if you have bipolar disorder.
Jaundice root or goldenseal root, contains berberine, which boosts the immune system, helping to treat colds, sinus congestion and catarrh. It’s not advisable if you have high blood pressure or a heart condition.
Kelp (seaweed) is a rich source of iodine, which is necessary for healthy thyroid function. It is also a good natural source of the essential minerals iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. There is some evidence it can reduce the risk of female cancers. However, it should be avoided if you have thyroid disease.
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes and other red fruits. It helps guard against heart disease, some cancers, osteoporosis and exercise-induced asthma, plus it has anti-ageing properties as it protects skin from sun damage.
Milk thistle (silymarin) can help settle upset stomachs caused by overindulgence. As it protects the liver from toxins such as alcohol, it’s good to take after a night out and if you have hepatitis or liver damage. It enhances the effects of oestrogen, so is not suggested for those with endometriosis, fibroids or female cancers.
Nettle (stinging nettle) is a diuretic so it can help with urinary tract infections, water retention and constipation. It’s also useful for allergies such as hay fever, asthma and bronchitis as it reduces inflammation of the airways. It’s not recommended if you have diabetes or kidney disorders.
Omega 3 is found in oily fish and protects against heart disease, helps brain function and lowers the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, maintains eyesight and aids the absorption of essential vitamins. Its anti-inflammatory properties mean it’s also good if you suffer with asthma, eczema, psoriasis and arthritis. It’s not suitable if you have angina.
Propolis is collected by bees to disinfect the hive, and has anti-viral and anti-bacterial benefits. It’s good for boosting the immune system to guard against colds and infections, or in lozenge form for sore throats. You should avoid it if you have asthma or are allergic to bee products or aspirin.
Quercetin is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that’s helpful for allergies such as asthma and hay fever. It protects against upper respiratory tract infections, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and hardening of the arteries, and can improve athletic performance.
Red clover helps to balance hormones, so is good for menopausal women as it reduces mood swings and hot flushes. It’s also used as an expectorant for coughs, and can ease eczema and psoriasis. As it contains plant oestrogens, it’s not advisable for women with endometriosis, fibroids, female cancers or those taking HRT or the pill
St John’s Wort is believed to help relieve mild to moderate depression and anxiety. It can also help with PMT, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and menopause symptoms.
Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic with anti-bacterial properties and is used for treating skin infections, such as athlete’s foot and acne, as well as cuts, burns, bites and stings. It should only be used topically and never ingested.
Ulmus rubra (slippery elm bark) has soothing properties, so it’s used to treat sore throats and digestive problems including indigestion, heartburn, IBS, constipation and flatulence.
Valerian is a natural sedative so is very useful for treating insomnia. Its calming properties mean it may also help with anxiety, stress and tension headaches.
Wild yam can help with stomach upsets, PMT, and menopause symptoms such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness. It’s not suitable for women with endometriosis, fibroids or female cancers.
Xhoba (hoodia gordonii) is a cactus plant that reduces stomach acid and suppresses appetite, so can help with weight loss. Natural supplies of the plant are scarce so beware when buying as some products may contain little or none of the active ingredient.
Yeast (brewer’s yeast) is a good natural source of B vitamins and minerals. It can help with PMT symptoms and its anti-bacterial properties make it good for fighting stomach infections and diarrhoea. It’s not suitable if you have Crohn’s disease.
Zinc is essential for immune function, wound healing, blood clotting and thyroid function. It also helps protect against osteoporosis, AMD (age-related macular degeneration of the eyes) and muscle cramps.
– Supplements are available from health food stores and pharmacies including Boots, Holland & Barrett and The Garden Pharmacy. Do not exceed the recommended dose unless directed by your GP.