Herbal supplements are generally not the first thing that enters the mind when someone at the gym or online or elsewhere brings the topic of supplements up in a conversation. More popular choices are creatine, N.O., whey protein, etc. Herbal products are rarely thought of if they are thought of at all.
What you may not know is that herbs rank as the oldest supplements in history. They have been used by mankind for either medicinal or health purposes for millenniums. That is not a typo. Millenniums is what I meant. They weren't in bottles, had supplement facts, or sold in retail but they were factors in saving lives and fueling the ancient athletes.
Why You Should Know About Them
You may be thinking to yourself "Yeah, but that was before science has brought us all the stuff we have now. So why should I worry about herbs?" Whether you know it or not, herbs are still a fiber in the supplement industry today. Most fat burners have herbs in them. Guarana and green tea are examples. I can go on and on.
Anyone that takes what they do seriously should pay attention to every aspect of it. For bodybuilders, that includes knowing what you are taking and what you should be taking. After reading this, you may find out that you are missing something. Go get it to ensure that all your bases are covered.
Now you may be wondering "Which ones should I take to meet my goals?" Of course, with everything else in the sport, it depends on what your goals are. If you are looking to lose weight, you should take herbs that are different from those that help you to stay in shape after getting older. Let's cover which herbs may be best for you.
Alfalfa is used as a diuretic, for kidney conditions, bladder and prostate conditions, asthma, arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, indigestion, and thrombocytopenic purpura.
Alfalfa seeds contain the amino acid L-canavanine. L-canavanine is metabolized to produce canaline and urea. Canaline seems to bind pyridoxine phosphate, a co-factor in the metabolism of amino acids, potentially decreasing amino acid enzyme activity.
Bilberry is best known for contributing to general eye health, but it does have many other benefits. Bilberry may be beneficial in diabetes, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, cataract, glaucoma, varicose veins, retinopathy, atherosclerosis, diarrhea and night blindness. There have been stories told about World War II RAF pilots taking bilberry to sharpen night vision for various missions.
3. Gingko Biloba
Don't laugh. Gingko isn't just for seniors. An herbal extract from the oldest tree known to man, the gingko tree, ginkgo biloba has been double-blind tested many times for its ability to increase the oxygen content to the brain and other bodily tissues.
It has been shown to promote mental clarity and concentration, increase alertness and short-term memory. For you, the athlete, that means you can focus better in the gym and perform better. Combined with another herb, ginger, it may help reduce stress as well.
4. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle's claim to fame is being a product for liver health. It both prevents and repairs damage to the liver by toxins and chemicals. Besides helping the liver, milk thistle also has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the growth of cancer cells in the breast and prostate.
Herbs For Weight Loss
1. Green Tea
This is the most popular herbal supplement out there. It has been shown to increase energy and help increase calorie and fat metabolism. It does have more than one purpose though. Green tea may be helpful to improve cognitive performance as well as to treat stomach disorders, vomiting, diarrhea and headaches. Whichever fat burner you are taking right now, chances are, it has green tea in it.
2. Hoodia Gordonii
This is a product that has taken off in the past few years. Hoodia was a product that in Southern Africa was used to treat indigestion and infections. Nowadays it is widely marketed as a natural appetite suppressant to help with a healthy weight loss program.
Dandelion has shown to be a natural diuretic and digestive system aid. Other benefits from this product include removing fatty acids and cholesterol from the bloodstream before they are stored in fat cells, restoring minerals lost when taking a diuretic, and serving as a laxative.
4. Yerba Mate
Originating from Paraguay in South America, yerba mate has been used to increase the metabolism, help regulate LDL cholesterol, and serve as an antioxidant.
Herbs For Men's Health
1. Saw Palmetto
Saw palmetto was widely believed to be a staple for the Seminole Indians. This is an herb that will help a lot of men because it is good for prostate health. Taking this product in your early 40's and beyond will go a long way in helping prevent prostate cancer later in life. It is also believed to serve as a potential treatment for male pattern baldness.
This one is known mainly for one reason. It has shown to help treat erectile dysfunction and also treat sexual side effects caused by some antidepressants. Any sexual health product for men on the market more than likely has yohimbine included in the ingredients.
3. Tribulus Terrestris
This is another product for men's sexual health and to improve libido. It also has shown to increase the male body's natural testosterone levels which leads to help men both in the bedroom and in the weight room.
Pygeum has been shown to alleviate discomfort from an enlarged prostate and it has also been shown to support the health of the testes and the seminal vesicles which produce and house the sperm.
Herbs For Women's Health
1. Black Cohosh
Women would take this product as a remedy for symptoms of premenstrual tension, menopause, and other gynecological issues. Native Americans used it for these purposes as well as for sore throats, kidney problems, and depression.
2. Dong Quai
Known in some circles as "female ginseng", dong quai has been shown to help women with estrogen levels, help with menopause, and the Chinese actually used it as an aphrodisiac. Women should avoid this product if they are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Dong quai has shown to also help increase fertility in both sexes.
3. Raspberry Leaf
Raspberry leaf tea has been used to increase fertility for generations. Pregnant women in China, Europe, and North and South America have all used this herb as a tea for a wide range of female health concerns. When used during pregnancy, raspberry leaves help to relieve morning sickness and improve blood quality thus preventing anemia.
4. Wild Yam Root
Wild yam improves liver and kidney function and can lessen ovarian pain. It is anti-inflammatory, a diuretic, and improves liver function. Wild yam contains diosgenin, which is a precursor to progesterone and was once used to make birth control pills. Today wild yam, valued as an herb, is useful for dysmenorrhea, infertility, menopause, menstrual cramps, and threatened miscarriage.
Now after reading this, you don't have to necessarily go all herbal, but I do hope you have a new appreciation for how long and how well herbs have served us for our health. Many different cultures throughout the world have used different plants and herbs for literally millenniums to improve wellness in many different ways.
This is also not a complete list by any stretch of the imagination. There are literally hundreds of herbs and natural ingredients out there that serve many purposes. Quite a few of them are on the labels of products you take today. Learn more about them and the increased education will go a long way in helping you accomplish your fitness goals.