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CONTACT: L. E. OHMAN
283 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-6660; fax (319) 335-8034
e-mail: le-ohman@uiowa.edu

Release: Immediate

Benefits of St. John's wort and ginkgo part of UI pharmacist's lecture

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The use of herbs is growing as patients look for ways to ease hypertension, high cholesterol, chronic pain and more as supplements to or without using traditional drugs.

Health food stores, pharmacies and mail order catalogues have found a niche market in herbs. Customers are willing to spend anywhere from $20 a month for a supply of St. John's wort to ease depression to around $90 every two weeks for the latest diet drug.

"It is because some patients believe that herbs are safer than drugs," University of Iowa pharmacist Teresa Klepser says. "They feel that they are safer because they are natural even though there are a lot of prescription drugs on the market that are from plants. They are looking for alternatives."

Herbs have been primarily used abroad but in response to the growing interest at home, U.S. pharmacists and physicians alike are making efforts to learn about and integrate herbal therapies into their practices.

Herbal therapies and several other alternative therapies were part of the seminar: "Complimentary and Alternative Therapies: An Evidence-Based Approach" April 16-17 at the University of Iowa.

"There is such a huge need to find out about herbal therapies," Klepser says. With her time divided between the UI Family Practice Clinic, the Lone Tree Family Practice Clinic and the Keokuk County Medical Center, Klepser has found many patients with an interest in using herbs.

"Some patients have tried many different treatments that have not worked and they feel as though they are running out of options, so they turn to alternative methods. A lot of patients bring the herb they are interested in to other doctors and me and say 'This is the herb I want to try.' Patients think it is really great that we are so accepting of it."

Drs. Nicole Nisly of the department of internal medicine and Evan Kligman of the department of family medicine, have created an alternative medicine committee in an effort to promote alternative medicine. The committee is in the process of creating an alternative medicine clinic at UIHC so patients are provided with access to every treatment option possible. Nisly hopes that this conference will become an annual event to help close the gap between traditional and alternative health care providers.

As a pharmacist, Klepser integrates her traditional pharmacy training with herbal therapies. She wants patients to feel comfortable approaching health care providers with their questions about herbs. According to Klepser, patients are very aware of the latest herb research and the touted benefits but they need the expertise of a physician or pharmacist to ensure that the herb is safe for them.

Unfortunately, says Klepser, patients are reluctant to approach their health care providers regarding herbs.

"I think a lot of patients hide the fact that they take herbs. I would say that about one in three use alternative therapy but don't tell their pharmacist or doctor for fear of their reactions," Klepser says. If patients are not able to discuss this issue, the result could be a dangerous drug interaction or worse.

An upcoming set of trials on herbal therapies conducted by the Office of Alternative Medicine, a branch of the Federal Drug Administration, will be one of the largest studies of its kind in the United States. This is one of the first trials in the nation to test the potential benefits of herbs. Klepser sees this as a chance to add to the acceptance of herbal therapies as well as enticing pharmacy schools to re-introduce the study of natural therapies to the curriculum. If pharmacists learn about the potential and proven benefits of herbs, then they can better inform patients about the full range of treatment options.

Her lecture concerning counseling patients about herbal therapies was aimed at providing health care practitioners with valuable resources while addressing the latest information available on herbs such as ginkgo, St. John's wort, garlic and valerian.

"I want health care professionals to at least know where to find the information, be more familiar with the resources available and where they can find them. They can become familiar with the unsafe herbs and learn about the safety of more common herbs," Klepser says.

For more information regarding Klepser's lecture contact Deborah Hatz, UI Office of Continuing Education, at (319) 335-8599.

4/17/98