Friday, July 20, 2007

Herbal Healer Q & A (Part I)

In this post, Mindy, herbalist, author, and founding member of the American Herbalists Guild, shares her herbal knowledge about health issues facing us today. With over 25 years experience working with plants, Green is currently the Director of Educational Services at the Herb Research Foundation in Boulder, CO, and teaches at The Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies.

Q: I suffer from depression and panic attacks. Are there herbs that can help these conditions?

A: There a number of studies that show that mild to moderate depression is safely and effectively treated with the newly popular herb, St. John's Wort (Hypercium perforatum). With over 28 clinical, double-blind controlled studies, it is one of the most widely used herbs in Europe for this purpose, demonstration effectiveness for accompanying anxiety, apathy, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

The herb is available as a standardized extract in tablet or capsule form or as an herbal tincture, and is best taken with food. The effective amounts are 20-30 drops of the tincture thee times a day; or 300 mg of the powdered extract three times a day. It reportedly takes two to three weeks before the beneficial effects are felt. It should be used with caution by pregnant and lactating women and may cause photosensitivity (rashes, sunburn, visual light sensitivity) in some individuals. Because it raises serotonin levels, it is not recommended in combination with prescription anti-depressants.

Though a controversial issue, it has been suggested that this herb may be a MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitor (modulation serotonin levels) with advise for avoiding tyramine-containing foods: cheeses, beer, wine, herring, yeast, etc. However, there have been no such side effects reported, and clinical studies on AIDS/ARC patients, for which St. John's Wort is also used, have not found these cross reactions, even at triple the standard anti-depressant dosage.

Other herbs used in the treatment of depression include lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), black cohosh, (Cimicifuga racemosa), and Ginkgo Biloba.

Q: I've heard the FDA is questioning the herb ephedra since kids have been taking large dosages of it in "Herbal Ecstasy." I agree this herbal "street drug" should be banned, but what will happen to common allergy and cold relief preparations containing ephedra?

A: The FDA has recently issued its proposal to limit the amount of ephedrine alkaloids in dietary supplements along with the addition of warning labels. The proposal would limit the dosage to a suggested 8 mg in a six hour period, or a total daily intake of not more than 24 mg, and instruct consumers to take the product for no more than seven days.

Products marketed for energy enhancement, body building, or weight loss must bear a warning statement that "taking more than the recommended serving may result in heart attack, stroke, seizure, or death." In addition, the combining of other stimulant ingredients, including plant derived sources of caffeine, would be prohibited. This new proposal would not affect over-the-counter medications since they have OTC drug status and are not regulated under DSHEA (the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act).

Q: My mother is beginning to experience menopause symptoms. Which herbs are helpful for easing her through the change?

A: There are many herbs that contain phytosterols (hormonally active plants), that have been traditionally used in easing the symptoms of menopause. Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) may help reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes, motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is a cardiac and uterine tonic, vitex (Vitex agnus-castus) may help to balance pituitary function, and dong quai (Angelica sinensis) may help regulate hormone levels. These herbs can be brewed into teas, taken three times a day. Many reputable herb companies make their own formulations for menopausal symptoms that may come in the form of capsules or extracts. Follow the manufacturers instructions on the label for dosages. In addition, soy foods and other legumes contain phytosterols which occupy estrogen receptor cites in the body and show some evidence of cancer protection.

Many women are reluctant to take Premarin (which stands for PREgnant MAre urINE) when they discover the inhumane way these horses are exploited and cruelly treated. If it seems too extreme to go off this product "cold turkey," I suggest contacting Women's International Pharmacy at (800) 279-5708. They compound safer forms of hormones from plant-based starting materials. The current research shows a bi-estrogen combination of estradiol and estriol (leaving out the suspected cancer promoting estrogen, estriol) in combination with progesterone is safest. It is offered in cream form for vaginal or external use, or capsules for oral use.

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