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Herbs for Allergies, Heart Health and Chronic Fatigue

February 9, 2010 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Many years ago I worked as a consultant for a number of health food stores. One day a customer remarked to me that his faith in herbs was largely based on the fact that human beings have grown up in the presence of medicinal plants since the beginning of time. He noted that the same could not be said for modern day medications. That’s certainly a valid but, ultimately, incomplete point. A more balanced view might be that humans have historically occupied this planet along side both dangerous and healing botanical neighbors.

The finest allopathic and holistic physicians thirst for reliable information about herbal remedies. They look for historical accounts that describe the use of medicinal plants, anecdotal case studies that corroborate traditional usage and controlled scientific studies on herbal supplements as the gold standard of proof. I know this may not describe many of the doctors you’ve personally met. However I can assure you that such physicians do exist. What’s more, we can all help encourage this variety of healer by sharing information with our own doctors and expressing our desire to have access to a greater number of evidence-based, alternative and complementary remedies.

Let’s take Hibiscus sabdariffa as an example. If you go to your doctor’s office and are told that you have “pre-hypertension” and other risk factors for heart disease, you’ll probably be prescribed one medication or another. One option would be to simply take whatever drug the doctor recommends without asking any questions. Or you could respectfully bring up a few relevant studies that might help you to avoid having to use the medication at all.

Here’s how the exchange might go: “Excuse me, doctor. I’ve read about an herbal remedy called hibiscus that I think might help me. A recent study of 65 ‘pre- and mildly hypertensive adults’ conducted at Tufts University found that hibiscus tea can lower diastolic blood pressure by 3.1 mm Hg and systolic blood pressure by 7.2 mm Hg. This herbal tea also lowered arterial pressure by 4.5 mm Hg over a 6 week period without any significant side effects. A recent “systematic review” in the journal Phytomedicine describes 4 additional studies involving 390 patients which all found some degree of benefit of hibiscus as compared to other teas and even ACE-inhibitor medications. There’s even a new trial from December 2009 which showed that 100 mg of hibiscus extract can help lower blood sugar, total cholesterol and triglycerides. The patients receiving hibiscus all demonstrated an elevation in HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels as well. I’ve printed out these studies for you to review. Can you please take a look at them? Because I’d like to give hibiscus a try before contemplating using a prescription medication.” (1,2,3)

One herb which I’ve only mentioned in passing is Astragalus membranaceus (AM). Several months ago I included a brief overview about it in reference to an immune boosting supplement that I often use when traveling. Three new studies flesh out the dynamic potential of AM in modulating immune function as needed.

  • A Croatian trial involving 48 adults with “moderate to severe SAR (seasonal allergic rhinitis)” was recently completed. Half of the test group was given a placebo and the remainder received an astragalus-based supplement for 6 weeks. Various objective and subjective measures of treatment efficacy were taken pre and post trial. An improvement in quality of life, runny nose (rhinorrhea) and “4 main symptoms of SAR were strikingly in favor of the active treatment”. (4)
  • A combination of astragalus and Chinese red sage was recently shown to improve chronic fatigue symptoms in a study involving 36 patients. The test subjects were provided with a placebo, 3 grams of the herbal blend or 6 grams of the herbal mixture. All of the participants were monitored over a 4 week period. Blood tests were used to quantify the levels of cytokines involved in immune function and inflammation, while questionnaires measured subjective levels of fatigue severity. No differences were noted in the blood tests. However fatigue scores declined in the group receiving 3 grams of the herbal remedy per day. (5)
  • A trial presented in this month’s edition of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology reports that using astragalus alone may be even more effective in managing chronic fatigue syndrome – at least in an animal model. Scientists from the National Research Institute of Chinese Medicine in Tapei, Taiwan discovered that rats with chronic fatigue demonstrated spleen atrophy and reduced spleen cell growth. Adding astragalus to the rat’s diet helped to normalize spleen function and health. This in turn corrected abnormal immune function and improved endurance in the rats exhibiting chronic fatigue. (6)

Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Source: BMC Psychiatry 2009, 9(Suppl 1):S1 (a)

The March 2009 issue of Prevention magazine notes that “It takes most people seven to nine tries to succeed (in quitting smoking)”. An adaptogenic herb known as Rhodiola rosea may improve those odds considerably. A study from November’s Journal of Psychophamacology describes an experiment in which mice were withdrawn from nicotine with or without the assistance of rhodiola. The mice who received the herbal support showed a lesser degree of “anxiety-like behavior” and “somatic signs” (body tremors, chewing, head shaking, jumping and ptosis/eyelid drooping). The authors of the experiment remarked that, “our data encourages additional studies to define the use of R. rosea as a therapeutic approach in the treatment of smoking cessation”. (7)

Naturally, the goal of all nicotine addicts should be to cease smoking as soon as possible. But as previously noted, this often requires persistence. Therefore during the process of quitting, current smokers may want to consider drinking plenty of green tea. A recent meta-analysis of 22 studies discovered that a high intake of green tea may result in a 22% reduced risk of lung cancer. Even as little as 2 cups per day lead to an “18% decreased risk of developing lung cancer”. The primary mechanism behind this preventive effect may have to do with a naturally occurring chemical in green tea known as EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate). It appears that EGCG-rich green tea may stymie the damaging effects of cigarette smoke in lung tissue due to its potent antioxidant activity. In addition, regular green tea consumption has been documented as relieving psychological distress which can often accompany smoking cessation attempts. (8,9,10)

Tomorrow will mark the third and final day of this current series on herbal therapy. I intend to focus on several popular herbs including: Monascus purpureus (red yeast rice), Panax ginseng (red ginseng), Pelargonium sidoides (Umcka) and Zingiber officinale (ginger). The topics of discussion will involve bronchitis, facial wrinkles, nausea and statin intolerance. I can tell you in advance that the research upon which that column is based is quite intriguing. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow to read all about it.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!

JP

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Heart Health, Nutritional Supplements

19 Comments & Updates to “Herbs for Allergies, Heart Health and Chronic Fatigue”

  1. Sai Says:

    Hello JP!

    As i have told you before i am borderline hypertension and i take hibiscus tea 3 times a day and it works fine. What is also strange is how the hypertension is defined. Mine is always high at doctor’s office (taken by a RN as soon as you enter the doctor’s office (and that point it is high (approx 145/92), but when i settle down and wait for the doctor and when the doctor arrives, i usually request him to take another and at that point it woule be normal (130/80). Hibiscus Tea has helped me a lot to manage this condition. However JP, regarding these herbal teas there is always a touch of fear as we do not have a lot of data to support its safety. There was someone who reported on the internet of kidney damage. So while i have it and it is very helpful to manage my condition, i just need more confidence via more data to support the role of this tea for safety. I am sure you would help there! Another excellent presentation!

    Best Regards

    Sai

  2. anne h Says:

    My BP is always low 90/50 -that kind of thing.
    I feel like crying when it gets high…
    Or the other way around, I’m not sure…
    Another good post, JP!

  3. JP Says:

    Good day, Sai! :)

    There are generally two ways to look at the issue of herbal safety.

    1) Some people take into account that many herbal teas have been used as part of traditional diets for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. To them, this promotes a certain degree of confidence.

    2) Others prefer to look at what modern scientific testing tells us. This is sometimes deemed as being more objective or reliable.

    I like to consider both sources of data. To the best of my knowledge, hisbiscus tea has not been associated with toxicity in either a historical context or in recent, controlled (yet relatively short term) studies.

    This is the best information we currently have to go on. There may, in fact, be cases of harm caused by hisbiscus tea. However I haven’t seen any mention of such events in the scientific literature. An Internet report could be accurate but it could also be clouded by other factors such as product contamination or an interaction with other medications, etc.

    Be well!

    JP

  4. JP Says:

    Thanks, Anne! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Nina K. Says:

    Morning JP :-)

    one question: do you think that a fruit tea is also working if the main ingredient is hibiscus – its listed as first ingredient and have the greatest share of all ingredients or shall it be pure hibiscus tea?

    oh and im looking for tomorrow…..facial wrinkles ;-) sounds very very useful :-) ;-)

    Greetings,
    Nina K.

  6. JP Says:

    Good day, Nina. :)

    We also drink a type of fruit tea (sugar-free) with hibiscus as the primary ingredient.

    http://www.healthyfellow.com/366/soda-alternatives/

    I can’t say for sure but I suspect that such teas are likely to yield at least some benefit. Sometimes the other ingredients have medicinal properties as well. For instance, the fruit tea we drink also contains: blueberry leaves and rosehips – both of which may benefit the cardiovascular system.

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Stan Gardner, MD Says:

    JP,
    I get invigorated about herbs every time I get on your site. Although I use many herbs in my practice, it is refreshing to be reminded about the research support for what we do. Because herbs are not ‘natural’ substances to our body, they have the potential to have side effects, so they need to be used judiciously. However, the safety profile for herbs is so much better compared to medications (patentable chemically altered products, many of which came from herbs), they naturally impart a degree of confidence. When herbs are taken at 10 times or 100 times above the recommended amount, they usually do not do the damage that a medication will do at those excessive dosages.
    Keep up the good work.
    Stan Gardner, MD
    http://www.stangardnermd.com

  8. JP Says:

    Thank you, Stan! :)

    I agree with your statements 100%.

    Be well!

    JP

  9. Barbara Talento Says:

    SINCE I AM ALLERGIC TO MANY THINGS LIKE TREE AND GRASS AND FLOWER POLLEN. I WORRY ABOUT TRYING SOME OF THE NATURAL THINGS BUT I WOULD PREFER THEM.
    BTW, I SAW YOUR DAD AND HE SAID IT WAS YOUR BIRTHDAY SO HAVE A HAPPY, HEALTHY YEAR TO FOLLOW.
    BARBARA

  10. JP Says:

    Thank you, Barbara! :)

    I can understand your concern about allergic reactions. Sometimes it helps to check if there is any relationship between what you’re allergic to and the herb in question. For instance, people who are sensitive to ragweed (part of the Asteraceae/Compositae family of plants) are often advised to avoid certain common herbs such as chamomile and feverfew.

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/patient-chamomile.html

    Be well!

    JP

  11. Nina K. Says:

    …what BIRTHDAY??

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY JP! Wish you all the best: health – love – luck – enough money – and that your dreams come true :-)

    Greetings
    Nina K.

  12. JP Says:

    Thank you, Nina! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  13. Bill Rawls, MD Says:

    Hi JP!

    I recently discovered Rhodiola myself, and quickly began using it as my primary adaptogen supplement! I was in Colorado last month and amazed at how well I adjusted to the altitude using this product. Ashwagandha is another wonderful & safe adaptogen, but I find that it does not work for certain people (including myself!). So far, I am very pleased with the rhodiola.

    I agree with green tea as a wonderful source of antioxidants and anti-cancer chemicals, but would like to advise that it is best consumed as a beverage on a more intermittent basis. High concentrations of tannins present in many green tea supplements have the potential to adversely affect intestinal absorption of nutrients. For a smoking cessation or anxiety, I often recommend an L-theanine supplement, a natural amino acid found small amounts in green tea and certain mushrooms. L-theanine decreases adrenaline by crossing into the brain and competing against exciting neurotransmitters. It allows for a wonderful calming effect with little potential for side effects. Currently I am recommending a product by Source Natural’s called “theanine serene” for smoking cessation, that contains taurine, GABA, magnesium, calming holy basil leaf extract, and Relora to soothe tension. So far, results with patients are extraordinary! I will keep you posted.

    Thanks as always for the great information!

    Bill

  14. JP Says:

    Good to hear from you, Bill! :)

    Thanks for sharing some of your personal and professional findings. Your insights are always welcome here!

    Be well!

    JP

  15. Antony Says:

    OUr body has lot of natural healing power such as Lowering cholestory, improve fat free muscle ratio etc….which we do not use. apart from that nature has also given so much natural herbs which can give one wonderfual result, I have got best of the benefit by doing exercise and meditation. However, if you want quick result try Proleva, my friend introdced this to me.. I love them.. Great result….

  16. JP Says:

    Antony,

    What effects do you specifically attribute to Proleva?

    Be well!

    JP

  17. Ksenia Says:

    This is probably the best article I’ve read about natural vs pharmaceutical treatments for ongoing conditions. Most will take one extreme view or another, but your approach is much more balanced and reasonable. I was looking for credible evidence about a link between hibiscus flowers and heart health, as my father recently had a heart attack despite having an extremely healthy lifestyle compared to most men his age (except for an over-fondness for steak which I am trying to remedy). In his case, it seems to be caused by stress more than anything else. It should be advantageous to reduce the need for strong pharmaceuticals by supplementing them with alternatives that have fewer side effects, but I wanted to see if there was any science to back it up, or if hibiscus was just the latest fad miracle cure. I really appreciate the link to the original studies, too.

    Thanks!

  18. JP Says:

    Many thanks, Ksenia! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  19. JP Says:

    Updated 11/11/16:

    http://www.annallergy.org/article/S1081-1206(16)31054-7/abstract

    Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2016 Oct 24.

    Effect of curcumin on nasal symptoms and airflow in patients with perennial allergic rhinitis.

    BACKGROUND: Allergic rhinitis (AR) is a common disorder that can significantly affect patient quality of life. Previous studies have found that curcumin had anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and clinical benefits in cancer and asthma.

    OBJECTIVE: To determine the efficacy of curcumin in the treatment of AR and to explore the molecular mechanisms involved.

    METHODS: In a randomized, double-blind study, 241 patients with AR received either placebo or oral curcumin for 2 months. The therapeutic effects of curcumin were evaluated by nasal symptoms and nasal airflow resistance. In addition, the production of interferon γ, interleukin (IL) 4, IL-10, and tumor necrosis factor α from mononuclear cells and IL-8, soluble intercellular adhesion molecule, polyethylene glycol 2, and leukotriene C4 from polymorphonuclear neutrophils were compared before and after curcumin treatment.

    RESULTS: Curcumin alleviated nasal symptoms (sneezing and rhinorrhea) and nasal congestion through reduction of nasal airflow resistance. Curcumin was found to exert diverse immunomodulatory effects, including suppression of IL-4, IL-8, and tumor necrosis factor α and increased production of IL-10 and soluble intercellular adhesion molecule. However, curcumin did not affect the release of prostaglandin E2 and leukotriene C4 from polymorphonuclear neutrophils.

    CONCLUSION: This pilot study provides the first evidence of the capability of curcumin of improving nasal airflow and modulating immune response in patients with AR.

    Be well!

    JP

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