Food as Medicine: Rooibos Shines as a Potent Defense against Alzheimer’s, Cancer, Hypertension and More

rooibosIf you are a fan of green, black or white tea you may want to rethink your beverage of choice. Rooibos (Aspalathus linear) trumps all three with its substantial health enhancing features. Even if you are not an ardent tea drinker, a second look at this red hued nectar is worth your while for the sake of disease-free living. Continue reading

Pine Pollen

pinepollenDid You Know…

…that pine pollen can elevate sexual libido, increase fertility, and decrease the symptoms of aging?

Springtime blossoms with color as flowers bloom and leaves brighten to green, but take a closer look and you’ll notice hints of yellow carpeting the ground.  These yellow dustings are actually pine pollen that fall from pine branches Continue reading

Taking a Mound of Salt for What Ails You

saltSink into a chair, relax and breathe in the salt air. You aren’t at the beach, but rather in one of a growing number of indoor salt rooms whose owners say small salt particles can soothe respiratory and skin conditions. Scientific evidence in English-language publications is scant and some doctors urge caution for asthmatics. Continue reading

Can Noise Pollution Make You Sick?

We’ve all heard of the negative impacts air pollution can have on health. Respiratory disorders, skin conditions and heart conditions are all problems that have been associated with the poor quality of air that so many of us breathe. But noise pollution? Is it even a real thing? Can it really make us sick?

The answer to those questions is a resounding, “yes.”

In fact, both Europe and Continue reading

Salt Therapy

Did You Know…

… that simple salt can effectively treat respiratory ailments, anxiety, and even cystic fibrosis?

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, prescribed saltwater inhalation therapy for bronchial and lung disorders.  Continue reading

Why Do People Use Aloe Vera?

Research backs up the ancient use of topical aloe vera as a skin treatment, at least for specific conditions. Studies have shown that aloe gel might be effective in treating psoriasis, seborrhea, dandruff, and minor burns and skin abrasions, as well as radiation-induced skin injuries. Aloe gel also seems helpful in treating the sores caused by genital herpes in men.

There’s also strong evidence that aloe juice (also called latex) taken by mouth is a powerful laxative. In fact, aloe juice was once sold in over-the-counter constipation drugs. But because aloe’s safety was not well-established, the FDA required that aloe be removed from all medicines in 2002.

Other uses of oral and topical aloe vera have been studied, ranging from cancer prevention to diabetes to easing the side effects of radiation therapy. For example, aloe vera gel taken orally seems to help people with diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels. It may also help to lower cholesterol. The results for other medical conditions have been less clear.

How much Aloe Vera should you use?

Creams and gels with aloe vera vary in dosage. Some creams for minor burns have just 0.5% aloe vera. Others used for psoriasis may contain as much as 70% aloe vera. As an oral supplement, aloe has no set dose. For constipation, some use 100-200 milligrams of aloe juice — or 50 milligrams of aloe extract — daily. For diabetes, 1 tablespoon of the gel has been used daily. High oral doses of aloe or aloe latex are dangerous. Ask your doctor for advice on how to use aloe.

Can you get Aloe Vera naturally from foods?

There are no food sources of aloe vera.

What are the risks of using Aloe Vera?

•    Side effects. Topical aloe vera might cause skin irritation. Oral aloe, which has a laxative effect, can cause cramping and diarrhea. This may cause electrolyte imbalances in the blood of people who ingest aloe for more than a few days. Aloe gel, for topical or oral use, should be free of athroquinones (primarily the compound aloin). These are the compounds that can be irritating to the gastrointestinal tract.

•    Risks.  Do not apply topical aloe vera to deep cuts or severe burns. People allergic to garlic, onions, and tulips are more likely to be allergic to aloe. High doses of oral aloe are dangerous. Long-term use may increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Don’t take oral aloe if you have intestinal problems, heart disease, hemorrhoids, kidney problems, diabetes, or electrolyte imbalances.

•    Interactions. If you take any medicines regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using aloe supplements. They could interact with medicines and supplements like diabetes drugs, heart medicines, laxatives, steroids, and licorice root.

Given the lack of evidence about its safety, aloe vera supplements should not be used by children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Introducing – St. John’s Wort

Latin name: Hypericum perforatum

St. John’s wort is one of the most commonly used herbs in the United States. It’s a shrubby perennial plant with bright yellow flowers. St. John’s wort got it’s name because the flowers were said to bloom for the first time around June 24, the birthday of St. John the Baptist. The word “wort” means “plant” in Old English.

St. John’s wort has long been used as a folk remedy for emotional disorders. It was once thought to rid the body of evil spirits. St. John’s wort has also been used for wound healing and for a variety of other conditions.

There is debate about the active ingredient in St. John’s wort. St. John’s wort extracts are often standardized to hypericin, which led to the widespread belief that hypericin is the sole active compound. Another constituent called hyperforin has also been found to have antidepressant effects. A growing number of experts consider hyperforin to be the primary antidepressant compound. Recent research suggests other plant components called flavonoids and tannins may also have a medicinal effect. More research is needed.

St. John’s wort can be found in a variety of forms, including capsule, tablet, liquid extract, dry herb and tea. Oil and oil-based ointments and lotions can also available. Products are typically standardized to contain 0.3% hypericin or 2 to 5% hyperforin.

Why Do People Use St. John’s Wort?

St. John’s wort is best known as a natural remedy for mild to moderate depression, but it’s also being studied for other conditions.

Depression

Numerous studies in Europe, and more recently in the United States, have found that St. John’s wort is more effective than a placebo and as effective as tricyclic antidepressants for the short-term treatment (1 to 3 months) of mild to moderate depression. It appears to cause fewer side effects than many antidepressants, which is one of the main reasons it has become so popular.

At least two recent studies, however, didn’t find St. John’s wort to be more effective than a placebo for major depression. Some experts consider the studies to be flawed, due to inadequate dosages and an insufficient number of participants, which led to unusual results. For example, in one of the studies, the prescription antidepressant sertraline (Zoloft) had no effect on major depression. Another study found that St. John’s wort was more effective than fluoxetine (Prozac) but not a placebo. The evidence for St. John’s wort for major depression remains unclear. Until we have evidence that it works for severe depression, it should not be used as a substitute for proven treatments.

A study involving 150 people with minor depression or dysthymia found that St. John’s wort was effective for minor depression (Hamilton Depression Scale score of up to 17), but that it wasn’t effective for people with dysthymia.

Anxiety

St. John’s wort is also being studied for anxiety because, in some studies on depression, people taking St. John’s wort also reported an improvement in anxiety. More research is needed.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

St. John’s wort has also been suggested as a possible treatment for OCD because the same medications (antidepressants) are often used for OCD, and because of promising results from a preliminary study. A later study on St. John’s wort, however, didn’t find it more effective than a placebo for OCD.

Skin Conditions

Oil of St. John’s wort, applied to the skin, was a folk remedy for skin injuries, nerve pain, burns and hemorrhoids. Although the oil is sold in some herbal stores, creams are also available. Some are standardized to hypericin or hyperforin, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects. St. John’s wort also contains tannins, naturally occurring compounds thought to relieve skin irritations, such as those resulting from minor cuts.

Ear Pain

Some alternative practitioners recommend St. John’s wort for ear pain due to an ear infection (otitis media). In a study of more than 100 children, a combination herbal ear drop that contained St. John’s wort, garlic, calendula and mullein was found to be as effective as conventional ear drops.

Smoking Cessation

St. John’s wort is being explored for smoking cessation. Although promising, well-designed studies are needed.

Other Conditions

St. John’s wort has also been explored for conditions that can have psychological symptoms, such as insomnia, menopausal symptoms, premenstrual syndrome, seasonal affective disorder and attention deficit disorder. Further studies are needed before recommendations can be made.

Side Effects and Safety Concerns

In published studies, the most common side effects associated with short-term use of St. John’s wort supplements have included mild stomach upset; allergic skin reactions; tiredness; restlessness; anxiety; sexual/erectile dysfunction; dizziness; dry mouth and headache. If applied to the skin, St. John’s wort may cause a skin rash. St. John’s wort (both oral or topical) increases the sensitivity of skin and eyes to sunlight.

Rarely, St. John’s wort has been associated with serotonin syndrome, a potentially dangerous condition resulting from an excess of serotonin in the central nervous system. Symptoms include confusion, fever, hallucinations, nausea, loss of muscle coordination, sweating, and shakiness. Use with antidepressants, particularly SSRIs, has been associated with this. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop taking St. John’s wort and seek immediate medical attention.

Important Notes About St. John’s Wort

  St. John’s wort may worsen symptoms in people with Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or other mental conditions; it may also lead to psychosis or mania.

  People with diagnosed or suspected depression should consult a doctor to ensure that their condition is properly assessed and treated.

  Pregnant or breastfeeding women, and those trying to conceive, should avoid St. John’s wort.

  St. John’s wort should not be taken by organ transplant recipients, as it may cause organ rejection.

  In one small study, St. John’s wort was associated with elevated thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels.

  Do not stop taking prescription drugs without consulting your doctor.

Possible Drug Interactions

 

One of the major downsides of using St. John’s wort is that it may interact in a potentially harmful way with many common medications. It’s broken down in the liver by enzymes that also process certain medications. The result is that it can decrease the effectiveness of other medications a person is taking or increase the effect, leading to an increased risk of adverse effects.

 

Avoid taking the following with St. John’s wort:

 

    * Alcohol

 

    * Allergy drugs, such as Allegra (fexofenadine)

 

    * Antibiotics, such as Cipro (ciprofloxacin) and Achromycin (tetracycline)

 

    * Antidepressants – St. John’s wort may increase the side effects of certain antidepressants, including Marplan (isocarboxazid), Nardil (phenelzine) and Parnate (tranylcypromine) and other monoamine oxidase inhibitors; Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine) Zoloft (sertraline) and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs); and tricyclic antidepressants, such as Elavil (amitriptyline) and Pamelor (nortriptyline).

 

    * Antifungal drugs, such as Sporanox (itraconazole) and Nizoral (ketoconazole)

 

    * Certain calcium channel blockers, such as Tiazac (diltiazem) and Adalat (nifedipine)

 

    * Cancer medications, such as Camptosar (irinotecan), Gleevec (imatinib), Taxol (paclitaxel), Velbe (vinblastine), and Oncovin (vincristine)

 

    * Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, such as Mevacor (lovastatin), Lipitor (atorvastatin), and Zocor (simvastatin)

 

    * Dextromethorphan (DM), an ingredient in many non-prescription cough and cold products to relieve cough. Use with St. John’s wort may increase serotonin levels, resulting in a greater risk of adverse effects.

 

    * Drugs that suppress the immune system, such as Imuran (azathioprine), CellCept, Neoral (cyclosporine), Prograf (tacrolimus), Rapamune (sirolimus), Zenapak (daclizumab)

 

    * Digoxin – St. John’s wort may reduce its effectiveness

 

    * Iron – St. John’s wort blocks the absorption of iron

 

    * Imodium (loperamide) – A case report of deliurium developing in an otherwise healthy woman taking St. John’s wort and the antidiarrhea medication loperamide.

 

    * Serzone (nefazodone)

 

    * Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, such as Rescriptor (delavirdine) and Viramune (nevirapine)

 

    * Oral contraceptives – St. John’s wort has been known to cause breakthrough bleeding and may decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills.

 

    * Protease inhibitors such as Crixivan (indinavir), Norvir (ritonavir), Viracept (nelfinavir)

 

    * Psoralen medications, such as methoxsalen or Oxsoralen (8-MOP)

 

    * Reserpine – St. John’s wort blocks the effect of this drug

 

    * Sedative drugs – when used together with St. John’s wort, the sedative effect may be exaggerated

 

    * Sedative herbs, such as catnip, hops, kava and valerian

 

    * Aerolate, T-Phyl, and Uniphyl (theophylline) – St. John’s wort may reduce the effectiveness of theophylline, a medication used for asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis

 

    * Triptans such as Imitrex and Amerge (sumatriptan), Axert (almotriptan), Frova (frovatriptan), and Zolmig (zolmitriptan)

 

    * Coumadin (warfarin) – St. John’s wort may reduce the effectiveness of warfarin, increasing the risk of blood clots. St. John’s wort may possibly influence the effectiveness of other anticlotting drugs or similar drugs known as antiplatelet drugs.