Herbs for Allergies, Heart Health and Chronic FatigueFebruary 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!
Tags: Allergies, Fatigue, High Blood Pressure
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Heart Health, Nutritional Supplements