Friday, July 20, 2007

Herbal Healer Q & A (Part II)

Q: I've heard many herbal experts recommend Don Quai for PMS symptoms, but I've heard it's dangerous to take if you are exposed to sunlight. How much sunlight? I work indoors, but get some sun on weekends, should I be worried?

A: There are indeed several herbs than can cause what is called a photosensitive reaction. This means that after taking them-usually in large quantities-you can develop a skin reaction after sun exposure. The reaction, which will usually occur within 24 hours, is typically temporary skin discoloration. Both Don Quai and its European relative, Angelica, contain coumarins which are known to sometimes cause this, however it is very rare. I've met hundreds of women who have taken Don Quai and so far, not one has experienced this.

Now that I've hopefully set your fears aside, let's address the use of Don Quai for PMS, since that is your interest. After years of observing this herb at wrok, I would say that it does affect women's hormones. It is particularly useful in relieving menopause symptoms and has helped PMS. That said, it is generally not the first herb I turn to in this case. My suggestion is to try vitex, also called chaste tree berry. It is available in tincture, pills, or you can buy the whole berries and make tea with them.

Be forewarned, however, that is makes a rather bitter brew! Vitex should help balance hormones that go out of whack just before menstruation. If you feel anxious, nervous, high-strung during that time of the month, take a relaxing herb like chamomile or motherwort along with it. These herbs have been used for centuries in women's formulas.

Look to your liver as well. It may seem like an odd connection, but your liver plays an active role in keeping hormonal levels balanced. Some of my favorite liver herbs to treat PMS are burdock and dandelion. You will find PMS formulas that contain these herbs at your local natural food store.

In addition, GLS (gamma linoleic acid) found in evening primrose, borage seed, and black current seed oils. It may take three months before you notice a profound effect, but most women find it well worth the wait.

Do not forget to take time out to relax. Aromatherapy offers several techniques. Take a hot bath with a drop each of rose geranium, lavender, and clary sage oils. These are antidepressive oils that are also used by aromatherapists to balance hormonal conditions. Even though it is not herbal, I can't resist telling you about a Harvard University study in which women with PMS symptoms found relief after chanting or praying for 10 to 20 minutes a day.

What would I do if I were you? If your symptoms are severe, I'd try them all. Otherwise, at least go for an herbal formula.

Q: I work with small children and suffer from reoccurring exposure to throat strep infection. I'd like to boost my body's defenses. Is it safe to take echinacea while on antibiotics for this problem?

A: Safe, sure, but most herbalists question the effectiveness of taking antibiotics and echinacea at the same time. A better plan is to use echinacea before you get sick to build up your immune system and hopefully avoid the need to take antibiotics at all. Of course, your immune system will not necessarily be boosted overnight.

Most people I know who seemed to get one sickness after another before they used echinacea report it took them several months to become illness free. While you are on your preventive campaign, try taking echinacea for a couple weeks, discontinue it for about a week, and then resume for two more weeks and continue this regime for several months. It will have more impact this way.

Echinacea can also help the children avoid sickness. (Give a 25 pound child 1/6 of the adult does). By the way, since your throat has been so vulnerable, herbs that are healing to the lungs and sinuses, such as mullein, yarrow, and elder flowers will also help you fend off future throat infection.

Q: Could you recommend some herbs for easing a queasy stomach?

A: You won't have to go very far to find herbs that can solve your problem. Peppermint or chamomile tea should do the trick. If you wish, use them together. Another herb that is one of my personal favorites is ginger, which is particularly good if your queasiness results from motion sickness. You can take them in any form, such as a tincture-which is especially handy if you are on the go-but my favorite tummy soothing program is to sit down to a cup of tea. Also look into reasons that your stomach is queasy in the first place. Could it be nerves, allergy, digestive problems, or giardia? Going to the source of the problem is the best way for a permanent fix.

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