In today's world of high glamour and fake news, its difficult to distinguish the truth from the lies. Many companies will take advantage of caveats of scientific findings that support their products, not communicating the whole picture, natural products are not excused from this. Rather than focusing whats "in", lets learn how to discover the latest discoveries out, and how to live a healthier, more informed lifestyle.
When interpreting information on botanical products, we have to take into consideration a few things. According to the principles of plant physiology, the basis of what affects plants are:
This means that the same species of plant, even clones of the same individual, will not behave or provide the same chemical composition when grown under different conditions. Variability is further enhanced when comparing plants of different genetic backgrounds. Due to a plants great sensitivity, it is important to find information regarding the exact species of interest and what region the plant is grown in.
For example, the poppy is known for its role in narcotics such as morphine and heroin, however the species responsible for their production is Papaver somniferum, whereas the common poppy you see on the side of the road is Papaver rhoeas. While P. rhoeas does contain alkaloids related to the infamous opioids, it could only be a mild sedative and does not compare to the effect of P. somniferum. The commercialization of matcha is an example of how regional conditions affect medicinal effect. Camellia sinensis, the tea plant, is popular around the world, however the only regions suitable for matcha production is in Japan (Uji in Kyoto and Nishio in the Aichi prefecture). Any other supplier of matcha, not grown in these two regions, do not provide the same beneficial properties.
Apart from being mindful of the fine details of certain claims, looking into supporting evidence will further prove is a new herbal supplement will benefit your health. Scientific journals are key in this endeavor as its is unfiltered information directly from the labs that discovered them. CORE and ScienceOpen are two databases that contain free scientific articles for your review, and open access journals such as scientific reports and frontiers also deliver peer-reviewed articles directly to the public from the scientists. An informative website found with more open access journals can be found here.
The easiest way to find information on specific plants or conditions is through Google Scholar. Google will present popular papers related to your search, but Google Scholar will give you access to many more with the advantage of filtering by year. As a rule of thumb, its best to stick to papers published within the past 10 years, the most recent the better. These will be the newest findings and will reference and have been built off the knowledge of previous years, assuring you it is the most up to date information on the topic. Through Google Scholar you may read full papers, but will come across restricted access journals as well. It would be enough to review the abstract (or summary) of these findings for an understanding of their research. You may find additional tips for optimizing a search here.
While on the quest for knowledge you may find some unfamiliar terms and processes. This is often a reason why the public does not regularly reference scientific literature. Looking toward something as simple as Wikipedia or other educational websites will help establish clarity. As with everything else, be sure to confirm that your source is credible and accurate. Rest assured, in defining unfamiliar terms you yield a greater understanding of the whole process, why its important, and how it may affect you.
Having an awareness of what affects natural products and building fluency in scientific language, I believe can lead to a more informed and healthier lifestyle. There is published research on just about everything, from natural products, to wellness, to overall human anatomy. We are able to make educated adjustments for our health, while potentially helping others, all while being a forever learner.
Norn, S., Kruse, P. R., & Kruse, E. (2005). History of opium poppy and morphine. Dansk medicinhistorisk arbog, 33, 171-184.
Kapoor, L. (1995). Opium poppy: botany, chemistry, and pharmacology. CRC Press.
Soulimani, R., Younos, C., Jarmouni-Idrissi, S., Bousta, D., Khalouki, F., & Laila, A. (2001). Behavioral and pharmaco-toxicological study of Papaver rhoeas L. in mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 74(3), 265-274.
Sekine, K. (2019). The impact of geographical indications on the power relations between producers and agri-food corporations: A case of powdered green tea matcha in Japan. In Geographical Indication and Global Agri-Food (pp. 54-69). Routledge.
Unno, K., Furushima, D., Hamamoto, S., Iguchi, K., Yamada, H., Morita, A., ... & Nakamura, Y. (2018). Stress-reducing function of matcha green tea in animal experiments and clinical trials. Nutrients, 10(10), 1468.
Richardson, N. (2017). Fake news and journalism education. Asia Pacific Media Educator, 27(1), 1-9.
Peters, M. A., Rider, S., Hyvönen, M., & Besley, T. (Eds.). (2018). Post-truth, fake news: Viral modernity & higher education. Springer.