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Medical Terms and Definitions Explained

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Adaptogen - A chemical substance (such a herb) that allows the body to resist physical, biological and chemical "attacks". It also enhances the body's endurance and stabilizes body function by acting on hormones.

Animal Studies
- Research studies done in animals such as mice, rats, dogs, cats, rabbits or monkeys. These studies are cheaper to carry out than studies done on human subjects. However, the results may match the results done on human subjects. Be very careful to extrapolate the results (no matter how positive) to human subject. Just because it worked in rats, doesn't mean it will work in humans.

Antioxidants - Chemical substances that can protect against oxidation damage caused by free radicals which can harm or kill human cells. Click here to get the facts on antioxidants.

Astringent - A chemical substance that causes tissues to shrink, contract, reduce its secretion or stop bleeding.

Benign - Not cancerous or non-spreading tumour (opposite of malignant or spreading tumour). It is also used to describe something that is gentle (as in a benign herb).

Carminative - A chemical substance that helps to remove gas from the stomach or intestine.

Clinical Studies / Clinical Trials
/ Clinical Research - Research studies done on human subjects based treating a disease or health condition with the medication or natural remedy. This type of research study give the most reliable evidence of benefits for treating the health condition claimed.

Compress - A cloth bandage applied to the affected area of the skin. It is designed to provide compression, heat, cold or moisture to the area to treat the skin ailment.

Decoction - A solution that contains the herbal plant that has been placed in boiling water to draw out the chemical substance in the plant. The solution is then filtered and the solution is taken by mouth.

Double-blind - A research study designed such that the subject taking the pill and the researcher giving the pill to the person doesn't know whether the pill contains the active ingredient or just a placebo.

Double Blind Randomized Placebo-Controlled - This is the ultimate super well-designed research studies that will give the best results.Why? Because it eliminates biases caused by the researchers, the subjects involved in the study, the placebo effect. These studies are the most expensive to carry out but give the most reliable and meaningful results. This is the "gold standard" in the design of research studies.

Essential Amino Acid - An amino acid that the human body requires that cannot be made inside the body. This amino acid must come from food sources in the diet. A difficiency of this amino acid in the diet will cause serious health problems and possibly death of the human body.

Essential Oils - Volatile oils extracted from herbs that carries their odour and chemical properties. Essential oils are used extensively for the treatment of ailments, the manufacturing of perfumes, and as a flavouring agent.

any amino acid that is required by an animal for growth but that cannot be synthesized by the animal's cells and must be supplied in the diet.

Extract - A concentrated solution that contains chemicals taken out of herbs, drugs or chemicals.

Folk Medicine (Folkloric Medicine) - The use of natural remedies to treat varies health conditions that are based on culture, superstition or are information passed down from one generation to the next. The remedies or treatment methods used usually do not have much scientific basis or research studies to provide evidence of effectiveness.

Free radicals - Free radicals are created as a by-product of energy production by our body. They can damage and cause cell death. Antioxidants can inactivate free radicals. Click here to read the article on antixoidants.

Infusion / Tea - A liquid extract (usually as tea) that is made by steeping the plant parts in a solution of water. The liquid is then taken by mouth.

Interferon - A type of protein made by cells that can block viral reproduction and stop the spread of the virus. It modulate cell function and is involved in the immune system.

Interleukin - A group of cytokines produced by defense cells (such as macrophages) that work to regulate, modulate or stimulate the actions of white blood cells. One class, interleukin-2 are being researched for the treatment of cancer.

Any of a group of glycoproteins that are produced by different cell types in response to various stimuli, such as exposure to viruses, and that block viral replication in newly infected cells and, in some cases, modulate specific cellular functions.

Lab Studies - These are research studies that scientists carry out on cells and tissue samples in their laboratory. Results on tissue samples do not always work out when tested in animals and humans. The results, no matter how positive, may not translate to the same benefit when used in animals or humans.

Patch Test - Apply a substance (allergen or any chemical substance) to a small area of the skin to see if an allergic reaction develops. Redness or swelling is a sign of an allergic skin reaction to that substance.

Placebo - A sugar pill. It is a pill that looks identical to the pill that actually contains the active ingredient. The placebo effect can make the drug or natural remedy appear to be more effective than it actually it. Well designed studies always are placebo controlled. Half the subject gets the actual active ingredient and the other half gets a placebo.

Placebo Effect - When a subject sees a positive benefit or experience a negative side effect because he believes it even though the pill he took is a placebo (sugar pill).

Population Studies - These are research studies done on a group of people that share a common characteristics. For example, a study could look at how much vitamin C people get daily and compare it to the risk of them getting gout. The study might discover that those taking higher doses of vitamin C had less risk of getting gout. These study are not as good as those that are double-blinded randomized and placebo-controlled. These studies may not allow you to link a cause and effect directly. In the above example, it is possible that those people who take more vitamin C also take other vitamins and minerals as well. Perhaps, those taking vitamin C are more health-conscious and look after themselves better. Population studies don't allow you to randomize the subjects easily so the results can be biased.

Prodrome - A premonitory symptom. Symptoms that occur prior to the health problem appearing.
Randomized - This term means that the subjects involved in the research study are randomly assigned to either take the active ingredient or the placebo. This will ensure that the results are not biased by the way the researchers assigned the subjects to either the treatment or placebo group.

Salt - Any compound attached to another molecule such that when placed in water, it will separate into its positive and negative ionic forms. This is to allow it to dissolve so that it can be absorbed properly. Many chemical ingredients such as those found in herbs, vitamins and minerals are found attached to hydrochloride, chloride, succinate, gluconate. For example, table salt is sodium chloride.

Significant - This term means that the results from the experiment shows a positive result that is meaningful (and that the result did happen to turn out to be positive or negative by accident). So if a study showed that taken a herb did not significantly lower blood pressure, it means that herb was no better at lowering blood pressure than taking a placebo.

Steep - To soak the plant parts in (usually) hot or boiling water.

Tincture - A solution made of alcohol and water that contains herbal extracts, active chemical ingredients or drugs.

Tonic - A substance that increases the strengthens and invigorates the body. See also the definition on adaptogen.

Trace Mineral - Any mineral that your body needs in only very small amounts. For example, zinc is a trace mineral as your body can function with 15 mg daily. On the other hand, calcium is not a trace mineral as your body needs upwards of one or two grams (1,000 to 2,000 mg) daily.

Well-Designed - We use this term to refer to clinical studies that are double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled. This is the "gold" standard in design for clinical studies. Of course, the study have to have enough test subjects as well. A study involving 2 to 10 subjects is no where as good as one that recruited 500 or even 10,000 subjects. Why don't all clinical research studies recruit 10,000 subjects? Cost!

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Revised: Febuary 10, 2011

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