What Are the Top 10 Best-selling Herbal Supplements in the US?

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Ten years ago, buying herbal supplements, especially the less-popular supplements, often meant visiting a tiny little shop tucked back in a strip mall somewhere off your city's main streets.  Today, herbs and herbal supplements are available everywhere from specialty shops to mass-merchandisers like Wal-Mart and Target.  And the variety of supplements offered is absolutely astounding.   The last year for which good numbers are available is 2007 but here's a brief look at the 10 best-selling herbal supplements in the U.S. and what they're most commonly used for:

10.  St. Johns Wort

Hypericum perforatum, or St. Johns wort, has been the focus of more scientific studies in the past 20 years than just about any other standardized herbal extract on the market today.  Not all the studies have found St. Johns wort effective but this tiny herb with its yellow "bleeding" blossoms is used to treat depression, anxiety and insomnia.  It's also used as a digestive remedy and, when used topically, a first-aid treatment for bruises, muscle pain and minor burns.  Sales of St. Johns wort have dropped slightly in recent years but it still managed to slip into the herbal top 10 with sales of just over $8,000,000 in 2007.

9.  Ginseng

There are 3 major species of ginseng sold in the U.S. but only "true" ginseng-the one known botanically as Panax ginseng--made it into the top 10.  Coming in with sales of nearly $8,400,000 this ancient Chinese herb is widely regarded as the "ultimate herb" among herbalists.  In fact, the "Panax" part of its name comes from 2 Greek work which translate literallly into "cure-all" or "panacea".  Here in the U.S., ginseng is most often used as a general tonic and energy booster.

8.  Milk Thistle

With just over $8,600,000 in annual sales, milk thistle or Silybum marianum is the 8th best-selling herb in the U.S.  Milk thistle has been used for centuries as a liver tonic; today, scientific research shows that those ancient herbalists were right.  Milk thistle helps the liver repair itself after damage and helps prevent future damage--even when the damage is the result of alchol or drug abuse.  It has even been used (with varying degress of success) to treat such serious conditions as hepatitis C.

7.  Black Cohosh

The "Cimicifuga" part of its Latin name, Cimicifuga racemosa comes from two Latin words which translate to "drive away bugs" and that's exactly what black cohosh does in the garden.  In herbal medicine, this member of the buttercup family is most often used as a remedy for menopausal symptoms.  Somewhat controversial among herbalists--some of whom recommend it be used only for short periods of time--this herb nonetheless enjoyed U.S. sales of more than $8,600,000 in 2007.

6.  Echinacea

Purple coneflower, or Echinacea purpurea, saw sales of just over $14,400,00 in 2007.  It is among the most-studied herbs in all of herbal medicine.  Scientists don't understand exactly how echinacea works but one thing they do know is that this hardy perennial contains chemicals that work to stimulate the body's immune system.  This action may help the body better fight infections, manage inflammation and strengthen blood vessels.  Some (but not all) studies have found that echinacea may help shorten both the duration and severity of the common cold.

5.  Saw Palmetto

With sales of nearly $17,000,000 saw palmetto, or Serenoa repens, is one of the best-selling "men's" herbs.  Its small blue berries were once eaten as food but today saw palmetto is mainly used as a treatment for enlarged prostate.  While it's not appropriate for men who have prostate cancer, this herb has been shown to help some men better manage BPH symptoms.  In fact, one study found saw palmetto more effective at managing symptoms of benign prostate hyperplasia than the prescription drug most often prescribed for it.

4.  Ginkgo

Botanists call the Ginkgo biloba tree a "living fossil" because it has remained virtually unchanged since the Paleozoic period of 225 million years ago.  Sold exclusively as a standardized extract, ginkgo may be the most popular herbal supplement in the world.  Here in the U.S.--where annual sales approach $18,000,000--ginkgo is used mainly for improved brain function.  Some studies have suggested that ginkgo's ability to increase blood flow to the brain may help some Alzheimer's patients better manage their condition.

3.  Garlic

A couple of highly-publicized studies finding garlic inefective at lowering cholesterol contributed to garlic's drop from #2 to #3 on the list of best-selling herbs in the U.S.  But with annual sales of about $20,500,000 garlic, or Allium sativum, still manages to be one of the most popular herbal supplements around.  This pungent herb may have its share of critics but it also has powerful antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal actions.  Studies suggest that regular garlic use may help you reduce your chances of catching a cold and lower your risk of certain cancers.

2.  Cranberry

What was the biggest mover of the year?  It was the herbal supplement made from the fruits of Vaccinium macrocarpon.  You know it as plain old cranberry.  It's perhaps best known as a home remedy for urinary tract infection and while it may not actually treat the infection, cranberry contains substances that can effectively prevent the bacteria that causes UTI from "sticking" to the bladder walls, prevent re-infection.  Cranberry may also offer a similar action to ulcer patients by preventing the adhesion of the bacteria H. plyori in the digestive tract.   No wonder sales of this supplement jumped more than 23.50% to see sales of nearly $24,000,000.

1.  Soy

Soy, or Glycine max, saw a nearly 17% drop in 2007 but its $25,600,000 in annual sales was enough to keep it firmly in the top position.  Soy may not be a plant many of us would consider a "true" herb, but this widely-grown food crop has some amazing therapeutic properties.  Some studies have found that soy's weak estrogenic actions may help some women better manage symtoms of menopause and help younger women build healthy, less-cancer-prone breasts.  Soy is also associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and cancers of the prostate and ovaries.

Is one of these herbal supplements appropriate for you?  Only your doctor can give you medical advice but now you have the facts you need to open an intelligent dialogue with your family's physician.

Sources Used In This Article:

Cavaliere, C., et al.  (2008).  Herbal Supplement Sales in United States Show Growth in All Channels.  Herbalgram.

Blumenthal, M., et al.  (1998).  The Complete German Commission E Monographs.


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