Tag Archives: anti-inflammatory

Ashwagandha for Stress and Brain Health

If stress is at all a significant issue in your life, ashwagandha is an herb you should consider trying. We all know the negative effects stress can have on our lives. Not only do we feel stressed and tense, but long-term stress also contributes to the development of many common chronic diseases, such as depression, high blood pressure, cardiac diseases and metabolic disorders.

There are many herbs that help combat the negative consequences of stress, but ashwagandha stands out from the crowd because of its mood and memory benefits.

withania-riebeckii-1

By helping us combat stress, ashwagandha may:
• Reduce fatigue
• Improves learning, memory, and reaction time
• Reduces anxiety and depression
• Rejuvenate the brain
• Improve immune function
• Help prevent cancer
• Stabilizes blood sugar
• Protect the heart
• Improve thyroid function
• Reduce inflammation in the body

I have been taking ashwagandha for less than a month now and am already noticing its benefits. I still have a ton of work on my plate, especially since in the garden at this time of year, but I feel a little calmer and less overwhelmed by it all. Many people note a greater sense of well-being from taking ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha also stands out as a memory herb. Some people even categorize it as a nootropic herb, meaning it improves cognitive performance and memory. Part of this benefit is from stress reduction. Long-term stress actually causes shrinking of some of the memory centers of the brain, like the hippocampus. But clearly, ashwagandha is doing more that just preventing this damage because cognitive improvements were seen in as little as 2 weeks in one study. In a comparison study between ginseng and ashwagandha, the participants taking ashwagandha showed improvements in mental abilities while the ginseng group didn’t. So though ginseng might be another great herb for stress, it lacks ashwagandha’s full brain benefits.

Ashwagandha might also be one of our key herbs for preventing dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. In studies done with mice, ashwagandha contributed to improvements in cognitive abilities and cellular markers in the brain. Ashwagandha is loaded with brain protecting antioxidants and may even help with the regeneration of nerve networks in the brain.

So try ashwagandha, and see if you feel it deserves its ancient reputation as a rejuvenating herb.

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Natural Ebola Prevention Strategies

So far there are no new confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States, but there have been 5000 false alarms since Thomas Duncan’s diagnosis in Dallas. This tells you how worried people are. On one hand, the Ebola virus has a particularly high mortality rate. On the other hand, Ebola is not as easy to spread as other viruses. The chance that we really need to worry about this is the United States is low, but this seems like a good time to review immune support and antiviral basics since we will have our normal viral infections to cope with as the cold weather hits.

First practice basic hygiene. This is washing your hands before you touch your face, especially your eyes, nose, mouth, or open wounds. Ebola is spread through bodily fluids and it not spread through the air, though scientists are worried about Ebola mutating to this type of dispersal.

The key to preventing colds and flu and possibly to surviving an Ebola epidemic is having a strong immune system. Ebola weakens the immune system. Survivors of past Ebola outbreaks seemed to have stronger and faster immune responses compared to those who didn’t survive. As my Ayurvedic colleagues point out, “For an infection like Ebola, which has no apparent clinical cure, natural reinforcement of the immune system may represent an oasis of hope in the desert of fear and panic.” So start with the lifestyle basics: healthy diet, moderate exercise, proper hydration, and adequate sleep.

For basic wintertime immune support, I also add probiotics, vitamin D, and vitamin C to my daily routine. When it comes to fighting viruses, some of my favorite supplements are colloidal silver, oregano oil, elderberry, and medicinal mushrooms.

None of these have really been studied with Ebola so we have to extrapolate from what we know about other viruses and remember that not all viruses are the same. For instance, elderberries have been shown to slow the replication of influenza viruses, but this does not mean that it is going to work with all viruses. On the other hand, colloidal silver has shown benefit from a wide array of viruses.

Agarikon

Agarikon

Other agents that might be theoretically useful are turmeric and agarikon. Turmeric could be useful in two ways. As an inflammation modulator, it could calm excessive inflammation that contributes to tissue damage and depletes the immune system. Turmeric also activates an enzyme called heme oxygenase-1, which in test tubes has been shown to reduce Ebola replication. Agarikon is a medical mushroom available in some of my favorite immune supporting blends like MyCommunity and MycoShield from Host Defense. Agarikon, like colloidal silver, has the potential to be active against a wide array of viruses and the other mushrooms in the blends are great immune supporters.

Please remember that all of this information is speculative since this virus it too new for us to have the studies that we would want to make confident claims. But strengthen your body and immune system to help prevent the more likely threats of colds and flu and donate to some of the many funds providing aid to those suffering in Africa.

Basic Herbal First Aid

During the summer, we tend to be more active, but as my legs can attest, we are also more prone to injuries like burns, cuts, bites, and poison ivy. So, here are some of the natural first aid remedies that I always keep around my house.

Arnica montana, both oral and topical, is the first thing I grab for any injury that involves bruising or swelling. When used right away it can reduce the severity of pain from sprain and bruises as well as seeming to shorten the healing time. I have also found arnica to be helpful for pain from overdoing it.

If I have a cut or scrape, I apply a salve that contains herbs like calendula and comfrey to help speed the healing of the skin. Calendula helps reduce inflammation and stimulates tissue healing while also being mildly antimicrobial. Comfrey shares most of these traits while also being soothing to the skin in a similar way to aloe. Comfrey has such a reputation for speeding up healing that it is not recommended for use on deep wounds, because it can cause the skin to heal before the underlying tissues do. Comfrey is also applied topically to relieve pain and speed healing of sprains and broken bones. If you want to learn how to make a comfrey poultice, check out these instructions from learningherbs.com.

symphytum-officinale

Comfrey

 

In addition to the common favorite aloe for minor burns, I usually either add a few drops of lavender essential oil to the aloe I am applying. It is correct that you are not supposed to put oil on a burn, but essential oils are not actually oils. While it has an oily texture, lavender oil evaporates quickly and therefore helps to rapidly cool the burned skin, while regular oil would trap the heat.

For insect bites and poison ivy, early application of clay can be very useful. I have been using bentonite clay but any kind will do. For the summer, you can mix up a small batch of clay using just enough water to make a thick paste and store it in the refrigerator well covered for handy access. Clay works by absorbing toxins from the skin, and I have found it to relieve the itch of poison ivy fairly quickly if I apply it for one to two hours every day for a few days. Activated charcoal can be used in a similar fashion for bites and wounds. I always have activated charcoal capsules on hand to help with issues like food poisoning too. Activated charcoal can help by absorbing some of the toxins that harmful bacteria release into our digestive tract, thereby helping to reduce the severity of symptoms.

So stocks up on some of these basic items and have fun staying well this summer.

Herbs of the Ozarks

I believe that if we know the local herbs in any region well enough, we can rely on them nearly exclusively to treat most common complaints. This holds true for the Ozark region, where many classic American herbs grow and many introduced species also tend to flourish. In fact, the Ozarks are part of the native range for herbs in very high demand—like goldenseal and American ginseng.

Another well-known plant from this part of the country is black cohosh. This herb is found in nearly every blend for menopausal symptoms, but it is most effective for women that have a particular constellation of symptoms, such as hot flashes, depression, and achy muscles or joints. Studies are showing that black cohosh may reduce the hormone surges associated with hot flashes. Black cohosh might also have constituents that act similarly to the medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which could explain its possible mood benefits. Furthermore, black cohosh also has pain-relieving attributes that make it an ideal herb to choose for discomfort and complaints not related to menopause. It contains analgesic and inflammation modulating constituents that make it a promising consideration for joint and muscle pains. Women can use it to address menstrual cramps because it relaxes smooth muscles, such as those found in the uterus. Black cohosh is also an herbal option for men who have low back and knee pain, especially if they also have prostate issues or are under a lot of stress.

 Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA SCS. 1991. Southern wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. South National Technical Center, Fort Worth.


Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA SCS. 1991. Southern wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. South National Technical Center, Fort Worth.

Japanese honeysuckle is a plant that is probably known to every Arkansan, but few know about its health benefits. Japanese honeysuckle isn’t native to the Ozarks. It was introduced and is now invasive, but one way to combat invasive plants is to harvest them for herbal medicine. The flowers of Japanese honeysuckle are antimicrobial, antiviral, inflammation modulating, and mildly detoxifying. The most common traditional use of honeysuckle flowers is as a component of Chinese herbal blends for colds and flu. A modern use of honeysuckle flowers is as an addition to pharmaceutical or herbal antimicrobial agents to increase their effectiveness. Additionally, Japanese honeysuckle flowers can help block the pumps that harmful bacteria use to disseminate the antimicrobial agents out of themselves. Apart from supplementation, Honeysuckle flowers are also mildly cooling and can make a refreshing summertime iced tea.

So we don’t necessarily have to search exotic lands for our medicinal herbs. Instead we can use our local plants provided by Mother Nature to help our environment and ourselves.

And you can check out my recent appearance on a local Harrison TV station talking about some other common herbs found here in the Ozarks.

Resveratrol: What is good for the gut is good for the heart

Many of you will have heard about the concept known as the French paradox, specifically how the French consume more fat than Americans but have lower cholesterol levels. While I don’t think there is a simple answer to this paradox, it is widely agreed that a major factor is the consumption of red wine. Red wine contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that is also found in grape skins, raisins, mulberries, nuts, peanuts, and Japanese Knotweed. Japanese Knotweed is actually the richest sources of resveratrol, and most resveratrol supplements are now made from this herb instead of wine grapes. In addition to being an antioxidant, resveratrol is anti-inflammatory and can play a role in reducing cholesterol and other fats in the blood. Both of these attributes have earned resveratrol a reputation for helping protect the heart, especially since inflammation is now known to be a major risk contributor for heart disease.

Besides these effects on cardiovascular health, new research is revealing other health benefits for resveratrol. Consumption of resveratrol has been shown to support the health of the beneficial bacteria that live in the gut. It seems to feed beneficial gut flora like bifidobacterium, an organism often found in probiotic supplements. Resveratrol was also shown to reduce the populations of some harmful bacteria that can inhabit the gut.  In fact, these changes in gut bacteria were correlated with reductions in cholesterol and inflammation, suggesting the changes in gut flora health may contribute to these other benefits. Additionally, resveratrol may help us fight viruses. Resveratrol may be able to send a message to cells to stop replicating viruses that have invaded them. Resveratrol also seems to have other attributes to help prevent cancer that are independent of its antioxidant properties.

I actually used to have massive amounts of Japanese Knotweed growing in my neighborhood in Seattle. Unfortunately since it was invasive there, it was being sprayed by the city and I couldn’t use it as a resveratrol source. If only we had a program to harvest the many useful invasive plants like this for medicine. Maybe we could all be healthier and our environment too.

Japanese Knotweed